Adams: QB switch does not change ailing offense

Tennessee changed quarterbacks Saturday. It didn't change anything else.

It again honored members of the 1998 national championship team in pregame ceremonies. And it again played like the 1988 team, which finished 5-6.

Astute observers of UT football might point out that the 1988 team started 0-6 while this team has already won two games.

Forget the records. This team is just as bad.

And it's getting worse.

But before going any further, I would be remiss in not pointing out the good news emanating from Neyland Stadium on Saturday evening: The Vols held off Northern Illinois 13-9 for its second victory in five games.

Feel free to applaud. And if you want to hold that happy face, don't look beyond the "W."

Northern Illinois is a middle-of-the-road team from the Mid-American Conference. It lost its starting quarterback to injury in the second game of the season. It lost its second-string quarterback, Dan Nicholson, to injury in the second quarter Saturday night.

Nicholson completed 10 of 15 passes for 83 yards before leaving the game with a shoulder injury late in the first half. He provided the passing - and offensive balance - that third-string quarterback DeMarcus Grady couldn't.

Grady ran effectively enough to keep the Huskies in a game dominated by defenses. But Nicholson's passing could have turned this game in the Huskies' favor in the second half.

Instead, the difference turned out to be the passing of UT's new starting quarterback, Nick Stephens. He might not be the next Erik Ainge, but he was an improvement over former starter Jonathan Crompton.

Stephens completed 10 of 17 passes for 156 yards, including a game-deciding 52-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore. He demonstrated a strong arm and better accuracy than Crompton.

And he played well enough to make UT's decision to stick with Crompton against Auburn seem even more nonsensical.

Crompton completed eight of 23 passes against Auburn. He missed receivers by 15 and 20 yards. No matter how badly he threw, UT coaches kept trotting him out there for one failed series after another in a game that could have been won with a whisper's worth of offense.

Stephens wouldn't have had to throw a touchdown pass to beat Auburn. He would have just needed to pass for a first down to put the Vols within field-goal range.

Of course, there's no guarantee Daniel Lincoln would have made the field goal. He made two field goals against the Huskies but also missed a 32-yarder.

Kicking is the least of UT's offensive concerns. The Vols managed only 69 yards rushing and nine first downs against the Huskies. They sputtered inside the 20-yard line. Their heralded offensive line was outplayed by the Huskies' defensive front.

Remember when the offensive line was considered a team strength? That was in preseason.

In fact, every position on this offense apparently was overrated in preseason - not just by the media, but also by the coaches.

UT's offensive failure isn't just about talent. It's about coach Phillip Fulmer and his staff's ability to judge talent.

Based on Stephens' performance in his first start, UT might have been playing the wrong quarterback all season. And that makes you wonder about the rest of their depth chart as well.

Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 142

utmichael20#546617 writes:

1st?!?!?!?

utmichael20#546617 writes:

so... Now we get to play Georgia coming off the loss to Bama...

vtvol#210290 writes:

About the truest thing you have written all season, John. Keep it real.

Orangeblood13 writes:

hey john, tell us how yoou really feel lol

Second game is always better ....right?

WeLoveTennesseeVols writes:

This team's returning most of its starting offensive lineup. It 's defense is as good if not better than last year. So what gives.? Quarterback leadership. Just something one has to grow into. Quit looking into an hourglass , John, you're playing to the crowd, something Fulmer has yet to learn to do. Your analysis is always correct, though, you are Mr. RightON!!! But you are just another wanna be news hack, having to say the same ole thing. After this is all said and done i pray Phil will win, and you will be tossed out of Knoxville.

Orangeblood13 writes:

We'll be ok ......right?
Hang in there boys and give em hell

slsmithsr#269458 writes:

You can say what you want. This time he was right about the OL. They are not playing to expectation.
BTW...how many linemen have we put in the pros in the last 4-5 years? Just wondering.

chucker6 writes:

Where the hell was Creer. He could have turned the corner a couple of times when Foster couldn't. Great plan coach, keep your best tailback on the bench so he can what, season?

Fulmer still has his head up his a--. UT will never amount to anything again with him at the helm and tonight was just another proof in the last 7 years of failures. To do so poorly with so much is criminal. It is not a matter of talent, it is a matter of coaching and leadership(or lack thereof). Sic semper tyrannis Fulmeris. Long live the next king! (and please give Pat Summitt the AD reigns long enough for someone with real backbone and grit to steer this derelict ship off the reef!).

FedUpVolFan writes:

Hey!
We are now ranked 55th out of 120 in the nation!
UCLA is 88th.
Go figure!

anyonebutfulmer writes:

Well said.

I knew after the first series that Fulmer had made a huge mistake not giving stephens a shot sooner. Mind blowing.

And this offensive line is a joke. Not a strength at all. One of our biggest weaknesses.

volintexas writes:

Adams, how dare you insult the 1988 team by comparing them with this bunch. Those six losses to start the year were to Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Bama, a Spurrier led Duke team and an excellent Washington State team. The Vols were rebuilding somewhat from the 85 SEC Championship. Yes, they won a conference title only three years before and they won it again in 1989 and 1990. It all started with 5 straight wins to end the 88 season and build momentum. Moreover, they had players like Carl Pickens, Chuck Webb, Andy Kelly, and to quote John Ward, a host of Volunteers waiting to step onto the stage in 1989. The 88 team didn't have the good fortune of playing UAB or Northern Illinois. Never again disrespect the 1988 team by comparing them with this bunch.

VOLKING writes:

We sure have a way of making 3rd string QB's on mediocre teams look good.

TheVolMan writes:

amen

MidTennVol writes:

Offensive line is weakest link on entire team.

imnotwithphil writes:

Congrats to Nick. He succeeded with poor coaching and a failed offensive system.

BTW - Isn't CFP a former O Lineman? I mean I know he played... and I'm pretty sure he wasn't a wide receiver (well, maybe the wide part). So shouldn't we have a world-class O Line?

Something for you Philbillies to ponder...

imnotwithphil writes:

PS - Please keep up he pressure John! Attack attack attack!!!

hogan writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

OldNumber7 writes:

in response to WeLoveTennesseeVols:

This team's returning most of its starting offensive lineup. It 's defense is as good if not better than last year. So what gives.? Quarterback leadership. Just something one has to grow into. Quit looking into an hourglass , John, you're playing to the crowd, something Fulmer has yet to learn to do. Your analysis is always correct, though, you are Mr. RightON!!! But you are just another wanna be news hack, having to say the same ole thing. After this is all said and done i pray Phil will win, and you will be tossed out of Knoxville.

I'm not with you on this one. This is way more than QB leadership. It's poor line blocking and ball protection (commandments in this game). This team is breaking down at fundamentals - the stuff supposed to be taught before all other.

When a coach comes in to fix a team with mediocre talent (take Saban for example), the first things they do is develop ball protection and blocking. Take a look at Alabama's yards per rush since Saban arrived - it has gradually improved. Also, Bama's run defense is gradually improving. These are signs of trememdous focus on blocking. Their 3rd and short efficiency is outstanding which means they can't be stopped at the line for at least 2 yards. Their record speaks for itself.

One area I totally disagree with Adams on is that these are talent issues, they are coaching ones. Even the most mediocre talent can be taught to block and protect the football. Saban knows exactly what he's doing. Until those things are fixed - there is no way to analyze talent or scheme.

eutefan writes:

I did see the weak side guard pull to lead a run (it gained eight yards) last night... the first pulling guard I've seen in two seasons.

The O line's blocking scheme seems to be that of standing up and getting in someone's way. Not a very efficient way to move the football.

At least Mr. Stevens has been bird hunting before... he knows how to lead a receiver. Ainge and Crompton always threw the ball where the receiver WAS.

Back to basics, boys.

h_charles writes:

Don't know if any of you caught Saban's halftime comments up 14-0 yesterday. He was furious at sloppy play and penalties, and his quote was basically "that is all mental preparation and discipline -- I have to do better."

That sums up UT football in a nutshell, and why Saban is so much better than Fulmer. He will not tolerate inadequate mental prepartion. UT is ALWAYS mentally unprepared. It may rear its head differently each week, be it a misread between QB and WR, illegal formation, or fumble. The cause is the same.

In the past we've been able to overcome coaching shortcomings in this area by superior talent and players who took it upon themselves to prepare the team mentally (Manning, Al Wilson, etc.). We don't have those guys anymore, and we are LOST.

OldNumber7 writes:

h_charles - your last 2 sentences sum up a National Title, an inability of Manning to compete for one, and the demise of the UT program. Those words are the Grand Unified Theory....This Bud's for you.

xvolx writes:

foster is the reason this team has no running game. He is two slow, doesnt run with power and is a slow east-west runner. The biggest reason this team has no off. is clawson's system stinks. They brought in the g-gun twice inside the 5. nothing. This program has one (big) problem. FULMER.

cterblan writes:

John, you are right. And this has been said for a while now. There is talent on this team, but it isn't seeing the field.

If you want further proof, look at what NFL teams do with guys that UT doesn't let see the field until their senior year. Those NFL scouts can see the talent in just one season.

You obviously recruited these kids. If they can out play a senior then that is their fault.

If you want to win and keep up with the rest of the nation it is simple... Play your best player at every position no matter what class they are or how long they have been in the program.

scvol12 writes:

Well, my wife has relented after saying I was too negative. She now wants a new coach because the present coaches will not put the best players on the field. Why is Hardesty not running the ball for this team? He is much faster and more dynamic than Foster. Does everyone see the obvious except for the coaches? There is no strategy, no plan, and no discipline on the offensive side of the ball. Clawson is the biggest bust of this decade

slee writes:

Talk is if Fat Boy on the hill loose 7 ball games he is history. With Georgia,South Carolina, Alabama, Miss. St.,Kentucky and Vandy left to play with already 3 lost games. Where do I send my going away card

dvol writes:

Ok John you are about to let me down. I thought you got it but, I guess I was wrong. These people talk like Stephens is the greatest Quartback in U.T. history. He's better than Crompton and I'll leave it at that. Now everyone wants to blame the offensive line and the running backs. Get a grip people. Its COACHING and RECRUITING two things Tennessee doesn't have right now. E N O U G H !!! Its time for a change. This was Northern Illinois not a top 20 team in here. Things are going to get worst. If the powers to be don't wake up and do what is best for Tenn. Football it will take a long time for us to be a power again in the nation's Elite.

BubbaTN writes:

The UT Offense Line hasn't taken much criticism this year but they are really bad when other than the Secondary should be the strongest part of the team. I think they are afraid of hitting someone and play like a timid girl at a tea party. Where's the toughness? Where's the desire to win?

bowser writes:

A colleague of mine pointed out that this year every team that has beaten Tennessee has lost the following Saturday. Maybe it would be in Georgia's best interest to lose to us on purpose.

zipstick2002#563501 writes:

This situation is sad. Worse yet, it is going to be long term.

BIGEJ writes:

This is offenseLESS and is "offsensive" to watch; enough is enough.....something has to be done....GO VOLS

fedupvol writes:

PATHETIC with no improvement in sight...Summitt for AD! Time to pull the plug on this chapter of Voldom...mh and pf have GOT to GO....NOW...not AFTER the season....at least supporters would see the admin is TRYING to do something right...

ClayMolder (Inactive) writes:

where are all the "fans" also known as sheep who have criticized adams for disloyalty for his attacks on the coaching staff. maybe they are sobering up from the kool-aid elixer that UT has been serving up for about 7 years now. anyone with objective eyes could have seen this coming years ago. now what will we do, keep throwing good money after bad and cross our fingers thinking fulmer will magically turn things around?

keep up the heat adams. maybe the big wigs will start seeing what we have known for years.

tennecwingrider writes:

Where has Austin Rogers been all year? He was our best receiver last year and I have only seen him twice and both times were huge catches?

dwolfcreek#397971 writes:

OFFENSIVE LINE SHOULD BE ASHAME AND FULMER TAR AND FEATHERS AND DRUG OF OF TENNESSEE.

madcow26#524674 writes:

good article

vols47 writes:

i would just like to say that yea even though tennessee won, and looked bad, it was only stephens FIRST start
you gotta think he was a little nervous

he looked sharp on those deep passes, which crompton hasnt done for us, hes gonna be great, you cant predict much from first game he plays, and i was listening to the broadcast yesterday, they said thats the first deep touchdown theyve had since the year meachem was a junior, so i think next game he'll improve

although we play georgia which is gonna be tough

saying that are ground game was mediocre yesterday, have to admit that, we were just slipping on a couple plays, and we have to do better if we want to compete, but still stephens looked good at qb

GO VOLS

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Do not diss the O-line? That is Phil's pride and joy. Heresy, I tell you.

Even Kesling and Priest dissed Foster for not running straight ahead at times. Creer, still doing the penance.

Foster must break the daddy-machines record.

Even Jo-Pa is safely in the press box with his head phone connected to..

no one.

cover_the_spread writes:

I'm so glad I bet on Northern ILL!!! Keep it up Fulmer!!! 16½ point favorite, wins by 4 at home to a NOBODY school. What a joke this team is.

Good teams win, great teams cover.

givehim6 writes:

Not going to post the way UT played { pew, yuck } I want to remember my dad. He was a young man in the 1950's, he remembered 1958 when UT won the national championship. He remembered Gen. Nelanyd {sorry}. I was in the Air Force in the 80's and early 90's. Got out while Heath Scholer was QB. Got to watch UT rise to greatness. I remember saying to dad, UT's playing good hu? He would say well there doing ok, but thay could play better. He was use to the vols of the 1950'S. I lost dad in 2006. I know he's looking down at UT now saying "thay need to play alot better.

dw0731 writes:

Don't worry Adams you may get your wish after this season and see CPF fired. You showed your true colors before the season started with your little radio show down in Birmingham. Why can't the News Sentinel fire you for below average reporting or lack of objectivity? This must be a dream season for you with the VOLS struggling and CPF on the ropes. Did you ever actually play football?

threehundredbowler writes:

This team does not have the talent to play in the SEC.It will take a long time to bring the talent level back to where we compete on the national scene again.No amount of coaching can change the talent level.Telent can only be improved by recruiting.There may be a half dozen players capable of being starters at the elite sec schools.

CT_VOL writes:

My favorite part of the game was when Fulmer calls back to back time outs on the NIU 3 yard line to ensure everyone's on the same page. After waiting 10 minutes for this careful and crafty planning, we are treated to an instant Stephens sack! Funny sad!

Frank

Jediphysics writes:

My three favorites were:

1. Jacques McClendon false starting twice in one set of downs on the opening series.

2. Having a 4th and a foot from the Vols ~40 and punting. Some faith in the offense... if you don't believe in our offense then you've already quit!!! Oh, and then the punt was blocked, if I remember right.

3. Not using our three timeouts to save any time at the end of the first half. Instead, we let the clock run down, took a timeout, let them punt to us, gave no punt block, had Rogan downed at the 15, and then took a knee with 20 seconds on the clock. What!! That's clock management problems by the coaching staff and yet another example of how the coaches don't believe in our offense.

Coaches, if you expect the fans to believe, then you should set the example and cut our offense loose!

TommyJack writes:

in response to CT_VOL:

My favorite part of the game was when Fulmer calls back to back time outs on the NIU 3 yard line to ensure everyone's on the same page. After waiting 10 minutes for this careful and crafty planning, we are treated to an instant Stephens sack! Funny sad!

Frank

Frank: Of all the errors and personnel screw-ups, I agree with you on this point. On the 3 with 2 downs to go. If you can't punch it in from there, you're in sad shape. Hmmm...I really hope it wasn't Clawson tht called that roll-out pass..or whatever it was supposed to be. Worst call of the day. Inexplicable.

Vols1998 writes:

Wow! John, your keen eye of UT sports is so............full of it!!

It would be a cold day in ______, before I would ever agree with a "senior writer" who only writes stories about events that the readers already know. When JA comes up with an original thought or some kind of insight that does not mirror 90% of all the other writers, then he is still a loser!!

I hope Knoxnews is not paying someone who borders on plagiarism and rhetoric.

Go Vols!

budd#207344 writes:

You win and lose games in the trenches. O line stinks so does it s coach. maybe fulmer can get to them cause their position coach can't

How bout them Dores!!!!

thevoice writes:

Adams: "Based on Stephens' performance in his first start, UT might have been playing the wrong quarterback all season. And that makes you wonder about the rest of their depth chart as well."

Like RB and TE for starters. I love it! Well said, Adams.

murrayvol writes:

in response to volintexas:

Adams, how dare you insult the 1988 team by comparing them with this bunch. Those six losses to start the year were to Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Bama, a Spurrier led Duke team and an excellent Washington State team. The Vols were rebuilding somewhat from the 85 SEC Championship. Yes, they won a conference title only three years before and they won it again in 1989 and 1990. It all started with 5 straight wins to end the 88 season and build momentum. Moreover, they had players like Carl Pickens, Chuck Webb, Andy Kelly, and to quote John Ward, a host of Volunteers waiting to step onto the stage in 1989. The 88 team didn't have the good fortune of playing UAB or Northern Illinois. Never again disrespect the 1988 team by comparing them with this bunch.

Thanks for pointing those things out.

pammyvol1000 writes:

Stephens did okay. Briscoe has dropped passes 2 weeks in row.
O-line is not good at all. Their QB got bigger holes to run than we did.

Hardesty, Berry, Reiveiz played great!

Offense is the same ole same ole.. NO spark! Except for the one long pass to Gerald which was the best thing I have seen all year.

murrayvol writes:

With the benefit of 12 hours or so to mull this game over I can only offer the immortal words of Vern Gosdin.

"Do you believe me now
I told you time and time again"

The train wreck continues unabated. Many who visit here, however, want to wait one more year (or two), come back, revisit the wreckage, and determine if it truly is a train wreck.

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