Playmakers hardly that so far for Volunteers
Posted: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 4:00 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson likes to describe his offense as one that gets the ball to the playmakers.
The problem is those guys aren’t always making the plays.
“I thought there was a couple of chances this past Saturday where we were an arm-tackle away from breaking a big one,” Clawson said Tuesday. “We need to build on that and get better.”
Tennessee (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) will need more than the couple of game-changing plays it had against Northern Illinois to have even a shot of beating No. 10 Georgia (4-1, 1-1).
The Vols have had eight plays longer than 30 yards this season. Two came against the Huskies in a 52-yard touchdown pass from Nick Stephens to Denarius Moore and a 43-yard pass from Stephens to Gerald Jones — two of the three longest plays of the season.
Tennessee’s playmaking receivers are slowly emerging: Senior Lucas Taylor averages the most yards receiving per game (39.8); Moore, a sophomore, is averaging the most yards per catch (18); and Jones, a sophomore, has the most touchdown receptions (2).
But all three seem to have played below their potential as the Vols struggled to find rhythm in passing through the first four games behind then-starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
With Stephens showing more command in the pocket in his start against Northern Illinois, now is the time for the receivers to step up and exploit a Georgia defense that ranks 78th nationally in pass defense.
“That’s the challenge, to find that consistency and find some rhythm and personality,” coach Phillip Fulmer said.
After praising Lennon Creer last week as a tailback who can make explosive plays, coaches failed to get him even one carry against Northern Illinois.
Creer is averaging 8.9 yards per rush — 3.7 yards more per rush than starter Arian Foster — and has two touchdowns in just 13 carries.
Creer, a sophomore who sits third on the depth chart, also has the longest rushing play of the season, a 45-yard touchdown run against UAB.
Coaches blame new play clock rules, which have significantly decreased the average number of game plays, for making it harder to get all three of the Vols’ top tailbacks in the game.
Clawson said he worried about taking Foster out of the game against Northern Illinois as he averaged 4.2 yards per carry during the win.
Clawson said he didn’t want to remove someone who was producing as the Vols were struggling to put points on the board against the Huskies.
Finding the most dynamic rusher will be even more imperative against a Georgia defense that ranks fourth in the nation in defending the run.
Fulmer said despite having fewer plays, he still plans his usual method of trying to get Foster, Montario Hardesty and Creer each a chance to play against the Bulldogs and then load the carries up on the player who is most productive running and protecting.
Foster has had long runs of 41 and 31 yards but no touchdowns, while Hardesty hasn’t had a run longer than 20 yards but has scored four touchdowns.
And breaking some long plays either by ground or by air could help the Vols squeeze in some extra plays needed to get all three star tailbacks in the game.
“How do you turn those 8- and 10-yard plays into 15- and 20-yard plays? If you watch teams that score 30 and 40 points, it’s not a methodical three and four yards. There are explosive plays in there,” Clawson said.