Dave Hooker audio
ATHENS, Ga. - Tennessee's struggling offense needed two plays to keep the game respectable in a 26-14 loss at Georgia on Saturday.
It could only manage one. The defense turned in the other.
Quarterback Nick Stephens found receiver Denarius Moore for a 60-yard gain in the second quarter. The Vols (2-4, 0-3 SEC) scored three plays later to cut the deficit to 13-7.
Safety Eric Berry temporarily jumpstarted the Vols' offense with a 54-yard interception return in the third quarter. UT scored seven plays later to close to 20-14.
Other than that, it was a typically tough day for the offense.
"Excuse my language, we've been (expletive) all year as far as offense," UT receiver Gerald Jones said.
UT's latest offensive miscues compounded its struggles this season. In their last four games, they've scored only 45 points, the lowest consecutive four-game total since 1980 when UT managed only 28 points.
Even when the Vols struggled so mightily in 2005, their lowest four-game total was 46 points. That season led to the departure of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and two other offensive coaches.
UT coach Phillip Fulmer said he's never been more frustrated with an offense.
"Not for this stretch of a time," an animated Fulmer said following the game. "We've got to find ourselves, whatever it is, some rhythm.
"It's like this dark cloud is following you around everywhere."
Fulmer backed first-year UT offensive Dave Clawson.
"The plans are good," Fulmer said. "They're sound. We just don't execute like we need to.
"All of us need to do better."
Fulmer said he had no intentions to get further involved with UT's offense, adding that he's already plenty involved.
"He's got the head phones on and he's certainly aware of everything we're doing," Clawson said. "He certainly lets me call the game. I'm responsible for the offense."
UT's offense ran the ball for only 1 net yard on 15 rushing plays.
"I don't know where our run game has gone," Fulmer said. "They (Georgia) flat committed to stopping it."
Saturday was doubly challenging for Stephens, who was making his first road start and first SEC game.
When named the starter before last week's 13-9 win against Northern Illinois, Stephens was called a gunslinger for his aggressive decision making.
That was plenty evident against Georgia where Stephens didn't look intimidated. He completed 13 of 30 passes for 208 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other hand, Georgia batted away a number of balls, many of which were thrown into coverage.
"He did some good things today but the bottom line is the job of the quarterback is to get the win," Clawson said. "Collectively, we didn't do that."
In UT's last two games it has become evident that the Vols have more problems than inconsistent quarterback play.
So how do the Vols turn their offense around?
"Coaches and players sticking together and not turning against one another and staying positive," Clawson said. "That's the only way I know to do it.
"It's easy to say. It's harder to do."
Clawson said he's seen no finger pointing among his coaching staff so far. Of UT's four offensive coaches, only two have coached together before this season: Clawson and wide receivers coach Latrell Scott.
"There's times in meetings when we get animated and have good discussions but when the meeting is over we're all on the same page," Clawson said.
That may be true among coaches. Players seem to be another matter.
"It's just a matter of picking up blitzes," Jones said. "I think that's our biggest problem right now. When we try to throw the ball, we get too much pressure on the quarterback.
"Last year, we only allowed four sacks. It's a totally different ball game this year."
Jones even expressed concern about UT's defense in their worst performance of the season, particularly when Georgia scored on a 97-yard touchdown drive just before halftime.
"They (Georgia) made some good plays on offense and we made some stupid plays on defense as far as penalties," Jones said. "They drove the ball 97 yards. Who does that?"
Not the Vols this season.