Tennessee's football team is drifting farther apart.
That's not a knock on team chemistry. It's a statistical fact.
First fact: UT ranks fifth nationally in total defense (fewest yards allowed per game).
Second fact: UT ranks 97th nationally in total offense.
I never saw the disparity coming. In fact, I thought balance would be the strength of this team.
The schedule has something to do with it.
UT hasn't played an opponent whose offense ranks higher than 47th nationally. UCLA ranks 111th, and Auburn ranks 104th.
Conversely, three of UT's opponents rank in the top 25 in total defense. Based on defensive rankings, there are more problems ahead for UT's offense.
Three of UT's next four opponents - Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina - rank 22nd or higher defensively. Defense alone won't save UT in those games.
Defense almost didn't save the Vols in a 13-9 victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday night. But a quarterback change helped.
New starting quarterback Nick Stephens provided what proved to be the game-winning play when he hit wide receiver Denarius Moore with a 52-yard touchdown pass.
The play underscored an obvious shortcoming of this offense. It's sadly lacking in big plays.
Florida's offense has struggled as well this season. Yet the Gators have been able to produce sudden touchdowns. For example, against Arkansas on Saturday, Florida scored on runs of 36, 48 and 75 yards.
Granted, UT doesn't have anyone as fast as Florida's Chris Rainey, Jeffrey Demps and Percy Harvin. Nor does it have a kick returner comparable to Florida's Brandon James.
But UT might have more playmakers than it has shown. Maybe they're languishing on the bench as Stephens was until Saturday.
If so, why not give them a chance? What have you got to lose?
Sustaining long, successful drives against the likes of Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina would be difficult for any offense. But UT's difficulties are compounded by its mistakes.
UT needs a receiver who can make a defender pay for tight coverage. It needs a running back who can turn a 15-yard run into a 50-yard touchdown.
That's why players like Moore and running back Lennon Creer should get more opportunities. And that's why strong safety Eric Berry should be used on offense as well as defense.
Again, what have you got to lose?
Tailback Arian Foster could finish this season as UT's all-time leading rusher. He has the ability to break tackles and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
And on a team with a better quarterback and more dynamic players at other positions, he could be invaluable - if, of course, he could hold onto the football.
But Foster can't give this offense what it needs - an occasional quick-strike touchdown. Moreover, linebackers can run him down from behind, and UT rarely uses him as a receiver.
If UT had pulled out close games against UCLA and Auburn as it did against Northern Illinois, maybe it could risk plodding along at the same pace with the same offensive players. Yet it's 2-3, not 4-1, and it's headed for a non-winning season.
So it can risk change or continue to beat its head against the wall. Maybe a dent will show up by November.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.