Adams: UT's 'how' bigger than 'how much'

John Adams

Tennessee beat South Carolina 31-13, and first-year coach Lane Kiffin was critical of his offense. My, how things have changed.

UT scored that many points in only one SEC game last season while they were tumbling to 115th nationally in total offense. A year later, the Vols have established themselves as a respectable, middle-class offense with a 59th national ranking.

I'm more surprised by how UT has improved than how much it has improved.

I expected recruiting would be a big factor in any increased offensive threat. I was wrong.

Freshman wide receivers Marsalis Teague and Nu'Keese Richardson have combined for 15 catches, and freshman running back David Oku rushed for 68 yards. Prize running back recruit Bryce Brown has flashed his potential, rushing for 345 yards and catching eight passes for 105 yards.

But an offense doesn't improve from 115th to 59th based on those numbers. In fact, UT's rise in offensive power has come more from player development than recruiting.

The most obvious example is quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who after an ominous start, has become a solid SEC quarterback. Such improvement is a joint effort - from a fifth-year senior and a first-year coaching staff.

That same coaching staff also has worked wonders with an offense that lost three-year starting center Josh McNeil to injury and didn't have a running back with more than 384 yards rushing in a season.

UT's 42nd ranking in rushing is even more eye-catching than its improvement in total offense. That goes back to the off-season when Kiffin made a commitment to a strong, tough-minded running game.

His players have taken it from there.

Montario Hardesty, a fifth-year senior, has blossomed into one of the SEC's marquee players. He ranks fourth in the conference in rushing yards per game and is only 159 yards short of a 1,000-yard season, which would almost triple his previously best season.

He has accomplished that behind a line that has suffered two key injuries and is supposedly woefully lacking in depth.

But the questionable depth didn't account for the contributions of the Sullins twins, Cory and Cody, two former walk-ons who have become starters.

The line has not only improved in run-blocking, it has improved in pass protection. South Carolina, which features two of the best pass rushers in the country, managed only one sack Saturday. The Vols are tied for second in the conference in fewest sacks allowed.

Another factor in UT's offensive improvement has been play-calling.

Kiffin and his staff know how to manage a game. You have seen that in how they have protected weaknesses in personnel and accentuated team strengths.

They also have expanded the offense.

In preseason practice, UT repeatedly threw the ball to fullbacks Kevin Cooper and Austin Johnson, both of whom proved to be capable receivers. Based on experience, I couldn't help but wonder if that would be a passing fancy, confined to preseason practice.

South Carolina wishes it had been. Crompton threw touchdown passes to both Cooper and Johnson in the first quarter, and the pass to Johnson covered 38 yards.

Those touchdown passes to fullbacks were worth more than 12 points. They were reminders that a once-laughable offense is headed in a different direction.

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

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Comments » 39

SEAL_9821 writes:

What a difference a energetic coaching staff can make in one season. We've always had the talent here at Tennessee, we just have'nt performed up to the standards that it takes to win championships.

tennezz writes:

This has got to be the best coaching staff in America! I like where we`re headed!

riversetvol writes:

Amazing what a little coaching can do for an offense. Our OL coaches should be candidates for Assistant Coach of the year. They take an OL with 2 out of the top 6 as walk-ons and whip UGA and USC's DL and stand toe to toe with Alabama, one of the best DLs in the country. Unbelievable!

TommyJack writes:

Good piece from Adams.

UT4ever writes:

another shot at Foolmer.....I mean, it's not even funny anymore, or sad.......If Adams doesn't bash Foolmer, then he rails Kiffin......Adams hates everyone, I"m thinkin'.......HOHOOHO!!!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Good piece from Adams.

Clap-clap-clap, RIP.

PdxVol writes:

in response to chuck0303#1342365:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

couldn´t agree more about the lack of drop off when 2nd and 3rd teamers come in. the preparation that these guys display is inspiring. it inspires me to do more with my life. thank you mr kiffin.

Southland writes:

ah Fulmer used to have the love and respect of his players that would run thru a wall for him. Just lost some of his fire.

HarryHood writes:

Thanks for a wonderful (and accurate) article John! Keep the faith Vol Nation. We may not get there tomorrow, but we WILL get there soon!

volfaninutah writes:

Did anyone notice Tennessee is ranked 21st in the FOX News football power rankings today. They are the only 4 loss team in the top 25. The reason is their play lately. It is amazing to sit back and compare last year to this one at the present. So much confidence has crept in now. They look good, but I like Kiffin's approach, he won't let these guys get full of themselves, he keeps saying they must improve. They'll get there. I can see that already in only 8 weeks. Go VOLS !

old_number1 writes:

I've said all along that Kiff's team has done everything they said they were going to do. This is just one more example. It should not go unnoticed that Adems is now convinced about kiff's staff. Even Adems admits it in a back handed way.

This team will not lose another game this year. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Slimjim_Vols writes:

Off subject....... pick up the book "On Rocky Top" by Clay Travis........ Very good read, as the writer was with the Vols the entire year last year not only as a writer but as a Vol fan..... found it insightful and very entertaining.

On subject....... We all knew that we couldn't get much worse than last year, but how many of us expected it to be this good this soon? Imagine if we handle business and take out UCLA, Auburn, and get the kick against Bama..... we are then looking at a 1 loss Tennessee team after a 5-7 season. Kiffin has shown not only that he is capable of being an excellent coach, but also that he is coming for your team in the near future. I havent been excited about our VOLS like this since probably the 2001 win over the Gators! I know we have a 4-4 record, but the way we have achieved that record is what excites me. We have played 2 #1 teams to the brink, took and dominated another top 25 team, and haven't lost by more than 10 in any game, and even it was a game people were clammering was going to be awful..... well it was, just not for the VOLS!

I honestly believe that we will win the SEC East next year. I believe that CLK has this thing in his grasp and is going to laugh, smirk, and talk all the way to the top. Alot of people compare him to Spurrier, but I say he is even more ingenious! Spurrier didn't come in and talk right off the bat, because he didn't know what he was able to do..... Kiffin came in and showed that he wasn't going to be a lil b!tch..... He came in even with the critics, with the doubt, and with everyone else saying he can't...... Well HE CAN, and HE WILL! There is a saying, that what goes around comes around, and I for one cannot wait until we hear CLK say "you can't spell fourth without the U and the F" cause by the time TN gets done with FLA they definetly wont be #1 anymore!

WestTennVol writes:

Sorry John I read this then forget what I was reading. 'The two freshman 'stars' haven't factored in....' thanks for the insight anyone who knows the meaning of image will see what's going on. Lemme sum it up, we're better. Young guys see they have a fair chance, but the best player will play....regardless. Good Night-Love WTV

PS-Nuke wets the bed

go_vols_go writes:

good work adams.

clariail#233203 writes:

in response to compact2:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Right now it is good to see the enthusiasm and improvement on offense, and the energy, but as much as you hate PF please don't compare a coach with only 4 wins and a .500 pct. to 152 and a over .700 win pct.
You should compare their first seasons at the helm only. Not fair to either coach.

murrayvol writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Good piece from Adams.

True story.

To catalog the improvements in this team from 08' to 09' would take far more space than a mere column affords.

murrayvol writes:

Recruiting a stable full of great players and making them greater is one thing.

Taking a locker room full of underachievers (with a few notable exceptions) and making them competitive with the best teams in the land.....now that's special.

Hoss44 writes:

What a pointless article. Is the offense really better than last year??? Captain Obvious strikes again. Adams you're articles are worse than last year, you're a disaster.

WytheVol writes:

in response to chuck0303#1342365:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I have to agree w/you Chuck (as a Fulmorite, as I have been called before).. It just speaks volumes about this staff. The fact that they have turned around the same offense that we had last year, as Adams pointed out... the freshmen on offense have been somewhat low-impact to date. I think our overall starting talent is as good as anyone's in the country, we just lack depth at too many positions. But as you pointed out, even they have been coached and are prepared to play at any given point. Obviously the offensive line has more heart and grit that anyone else's in the country, because that is the one area we probably don't match up across the board, talent wise. Just goes to show you that they have been coached up and truly bleed Orange. And the Defense!!! Holy phooey. They have given a new meaning to the term "Orange Swarm".

I have seen several key WR blocks that have sprung Hardesty on his runs too. This years major turn around, IMO, has been the team philosophy. They play as a team, 100%. I also like how Kiffin is critical when most think praise is due (i.e. offensive production of 31 points Saturday), yet praises players when we think he should be critical (i.e. Crompton). He does an excellent job of bringing them to earth when they are high or low.

The intangibles are as important as anything else, and tells me this staff can coach!!

GO VOLS!!!

VOL03_NC writes:

Let the evidence stand, Adams is correct. Great read, thanks.

TalbottVols writes:

can't help but wonder how much talent was wasted here during Fulmer's last 8yrs or so, Wonder how Gerald Riggs Jr would have looked if he had this staff pushing him, for example

GreensboroVol writes:

in response to Slimjim_Vols:

Off subject....... pick up the book "On Rocky Top" by Clay Travis........ Very good read, as the writer was with the Vols the entire year last year not only as a writer but as a Vol fan..... found it insightful and very entertaining.

On subject....... We all knew that we couldn't get much worse than last year, but how many of us expected it to be this good this soon? Imagine if we handle business and take out UCLA, Auburn, and get the kick against Bama..... we are then looking at a 1 loss Tennessee team after a 5-7 season. Kiffin has shown not only that he is capable of being an excellent coach, but also that he is coming for your team in the near future. I havent been excited about our VOLS like this since probably the 2001 win over the Gators! I know we have a 4-4 record, but the way we have achieved that record is what excites me. We have played 2 #1 teams to the brink, took and dominated another top 25 team, and haven't lost by more than 10 in any game, and even it was a game people were clammering was going to be awful..... well it was, just not for the VOLS!

I honestly believe that we will win the SEC East next year. I believe that CLK has this thing in his grasp and is going to laugh, smirk, and talk all the way to the top. Alot of people compare him to Spurrier, but I say he is even more ingenious! Spurrier didn't come in and talk right off the bat, because he didn't know what he was able to do..... Kiffin came in and showed that he wasn't going to be a lil b!tch..... He came in even with the critics, with the doubt, and with everyone else saying he can't...... Well HE CAN, and HE WILL! There is a saying, that what goes around comes around, and I for one cannot wait until we hear CLK say "you can't spell fourth without the U and the F" cause by the time TN gets done with FLA they definetly wont be #1 anymore!

The Clay Travis book on last season was an excellent read and I would also recommend it to all Vol fans or just college football fans in general. My dad and I were joking Saturday night at the game about how CLK could come up with a Spurrierism like "you can't spell Champs Sports Bowl without S.C." CLK needs to zing Steve Spurrier and other SEC coaches just to keep things interesting.

VOL03_NC writes:

in response to TalbottVols:

can't help but wonder how much talent was wasted here during Fulmer's last 8yrs or so, Wonder how Gerald Riggs Jr would have looked if he had this staff pushing him, for example

Good Point TalbottVols. Remember Kelly Washington, Travis and Jamal. Ect... We had talent, however I feel sure the potential was never reached. After Cutcliff left everything kinda unraveled.

Hounddog writes:

in response to TalbottVols:

can't help but wonder how much talent was wasted here during Fulmer's last 8yrs or so, Wonder how Gerald Riggs Jr would have looked if he had this staff pushing him, for example

How about Erik Ainge?

let's play football. Hounddog

secsecsec writes:

Based on wins and losses, the coaching staff still receives a failing grade. However, based on work ethic, improvement, and potential- then they are well on their way to being valedictorians of the conference. I think of Bear Bryant's first year at Texas A&M, the famous (or infamous) Junction Boys group. I think that they went 1 and 9 that first year- but the foundation had been put in place for many wins to come. 2 years later Texas A&M won the South Western Conference Championship- a Herculean effort for a school like Texas A&M (at the time). UT has much more going for it- UT is already a recognized national power (thanks to Fulmer and his great players- we fans don't need to forget that) and the talent that he left on the team is showing that they are good enough to compete at a high level. So, even the immediate future is very bright.

The only nagging doubt that I have is the insecurity that CLK shows on a regular basis. Beginning with his paranoia about receiving the fax at Pahokee (he said something like, "things have a way of getting lost down there" to the paranoid and angry look on his face before the Alabama game. That was frightening to me as a fan. One could tell at that moment that he thought that "someone" at Alabama was conspiring against him and making his headsets not work on purpose. Nevermind that Alabama's offense coaches were in the pressbox and by rule couldn't use the headsets either. As the announcer's made plain- it hurt Alabama more then UT. I worry even more, now, after he continued to insist on talking about that "incident" in his post game conference. I was caused to remember his comment about his incorrect statement about firing the driver that didn't show up on time. Do you think that he would have fired someone at that moment in Tuscaloosa if he could have because the headsets weren't working? Would you want him as your boss? With his comments and actions he is developing a pattern of being an immature and insecure leader and I worry about that. Perhaps I'm the one that is paranoid, but it is my opinion.

VolunteerLifer writes:

in response to secsecsec:

Based on wins and losses, the coaching staff still receives a failing grade. However, based on work ethic, improvement, and potential- then they are well on their way to being valedictorians of the conference. I think of Bear Bryant's first year at Texas A&M, the famous (or infamous) Junction Boys group. I think that they went 1 and 9 that first year- but the foundation had been put in place for many wins to come. 2 years later Texas A&M won the South Western Conference Championship- a Herculean effort for a school like Texas A&M (at the time). UT has much more going for it- UT is already a recognized national power (thanks to Fulmer and his great players- we fans don't need to forget that) and the talent that he left on the team is showing that they are good enough to compete at a high level. So, even the immediate future is very bright.

The only nagging doubt that I have is the insecurity that CLK shows on a regular basis. Beginning with his paranoia about receiving the fax at Pahokee (he said something like, "things have a way of getting lost down there" to the paranoid and angry look on his face before the Alabama game. That was frightening to me as a fan. One could tell at that moment that he thought that "someone" at Alabama was conspiring against him and making his headsets not work on purpose. Nevermind that Alabama's offense coaches were in the pressbox and by rule couldn't use the headsets either. As the announcer's made plain- it hurt Alabama more then UT. I worry even more, now, after he continued to insist on talking about that "incident" in his post game conference. I was caused to remember his comment about his incorrect statement about firing the driver that didn't show up on time. Do you think that he would have fired someone at that moment in Tuscaloosa if he could have because the headsets weren't working? Would you want him as your boss? With his comments and actions he is developing a pattern of being an immature and insecure leader and I worry about that. Perhaps I'm the one that is paranoid, but it is my opinion.

I hope counseling is included in your health care insurance plan.

chargervol writes:

The freshmen have shown well on defense, though. Janzen Jackson, the day after recruit, has been huge. Lane Kiffin, at the end of signing day, was happy with the recruits that he had signed. But, remember what he said later in that press conference. He said that he had a surprise the next day and that, we as fans, would like it. Janzen Jackson. GO VOLS!!!

murrayvol writes:

in response to TalbottVols:

can't help but wonder how much talent was wasted here during Fulmer's last 8yrs or so, Wonder how Gerald Riggs Jr would have looked if he had this staff pushing him, for example

A lot like Hardesty? We'll never know.

murrayvol writes:

in response to secsecsec:

Based on wins and losses, the coaching staff still receives a failing grade. However, based on work ethic, improvement, and potential- then they are well on their way to being valedictorians of the conference. I think of Bear Bryant's first year at Texas A&M, the famous (or infamous) Junction Boys group. I think that they went 1 and 9 that first year- but the foundation had been put in place for many wins to come. 2 years later Texas A&M won the South Western Conference Championship- a Herculean effort for a school like Texas A&M (at the time). UT has much more going for it- UT is already a recognized national power (thanks to Fulmer and his great players- we fans don't need to forget that) and the talent that he left on the team is showing that they are good enough to compete at a high level. So, even the immediate future is very bright.

The only nagging doubt that I have is the insecurity that CLK shows on a regular basis. Beginning with his paranoia about receiving the fax at Pahokee (he said something like, "things have a way of getting lost down there" to the paranoid and angry look on his face before the Alabama game. That was frightening to me as a fan. One could tell at that moment that he thought that "someone" at Alabama was conspiring against him and making his headsets not work on purpose. Nevermind that Alabama's offense coaches were in the pressbox and by rule couldn't use the headsets either. As the announcer's made plain- it hurt Alabama more then UT. I worry even more, now, after he continued to insist on talking about that "incident" in his post game conference. I was caused to remember his comment about his incorrect statement about firing the driver that didn't show up on time. Do you think that he would have fired someone at that moment in Tuscaloosa if he could have because the headsets weren't working? Would you want him as your boss? With his comments and actions he is developing a pattern of being an immature and insecure leader and I worry about that. Perhaps I'm the one that is paranoid, but it is my opinion.

Perhaps you are paranoid.

dowhatsright writes:

Great article. Very insightful. Thanks.

mytrifecta writes:

Crompton's turn around has been incredible and shows the ability of this coaching staff.

ethanfrome writes:

John,

When are you finally going to write an article that is a lightly veiled attack on Fulmer?

You must agree that he did become complacent in his final 6-8 years.

He has been gone a year naw and I am still waiting.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to clariail#233203:

Right now it is good to see the enthusiasm and improvement on offense, and the energy, but as much as you hate PF please don't compare a coach with only 4 wins and a .500 pct. to 152 and a over .700 win pct.
You should compare their first seasons at the helm only. Not fair to either coach.

No, that is an invalid comparison, too. First of all, you have to specify which year was Fulmer's first, the year he took over for Johnny in mid-season or his first full year. In either case, he inherited a far more successful, deeper, and more talented team than CLK did. Since CLK is doing it with many of the same players Fulmer was failing with, and with only a few freshmen making big contributions, it is inevitable that CLK this year will be and should be compared to Fulmer last year, IMHO. To me, what CLK has done is at least as impressive as what Bruce Pearl did in his first year with Buzz Peterson's guys, the same ones that never had a winning season under Buzz.

volmot writes:

in response to VOL03_NC:

Good Point TalbottVols. Remember Kelly Washington, Travis and Jamal. Ect... We had talent, however I feel sure the potential was never reached. After Cutcliff left everything kinda unraveled.

I like facts wuth my comments. Kelly Washingtons first year was great. In his 6th game EVER playing wideout he set the single game recieving yards at wide recievier u. The next year he hurt his neck and was slow to recover and casey missed some games with an injury. As far as Jamal he hurt his knee in 98 after a great 97 season. In 99 he hadn' t fully recovered or took it easy to protect his pro stock (draw your own conclusions) As far as Travis Henry/Stephens they both played behind Jamal and each other, they waited their turn. While I agree that there might have been talent wasted you need to cite better examples than those three.

forever_orange34 writes:

Nice article adams. I love CLK and what he is doing at the University of Tennessee, you see passion that we haven't seen from a coaching staff in years.

tapeworm writes:

I've been watching Dave Clawson's Bowling Green team playing tonite against Buffalo, and it has been painful. BG looks like a Pop Warner team, and the score reflects it. And this is against a sub-par Buffalo team, since Turner Gill became coach. Maybe BG will get it turned around, but Clawson hasn't added much value there since he was named head coach.

DenverVol writes:

in response to mytrifecta:

Crompton's turn around has been incredible and shows the ability of this coaching staff.

I totally agree. I'm curious to know which coach has played the bigger role in this though, CLK, Jim Chaney, David Reaves, a combination... The reason I question this is I'm wondering if Chaney is playing a large enough role in this offense to stick around for a while.

BreatheUT writes:

in response to DenverVol:

I totally agree. I'm curious to know which coach has played the bigger role in this though, CLK, Jim Chaney, David Reaves, a combination... The reason I question this is I'm wondering if Chaney is playing a large enough role in this offense to stick around for a while.

I'm definitely drinking the oranage kool-aid. While I understand the excitement for the future, Vols fans expectations for next year should be tempered with the reality that we will be even younger next year at some key positions when the lack of depth rears its head. Remember the 2006 and 2008 recruiting classes were "average at best" and even some of those players that would have been called on to play roles are no longer on the team.

As far as Cheney is concerned, I often wonder exactly how he fits in as offensive co-ordinator since CLK is the one calling the plays. That would be a good question for CLK or Coach Cheney. Here is my guess: Coach Cheney probably co-ordinates the relationships and the schemes of all the different units within the offense. He probably makes sure they flow as one cohesive unit and is responsible for why this unit is so disciplined from blocking assignments to concentration. Chaney is the person in the booth so he is disecting the defense and advising CLK on what is going on. CLK just makes the deciding play calls.

I think what we often overlook is the job that the position coaches are doing. These guys are the key to the player development. One of the best recruiting jobs may have been identifying coaches that can not only bring in talent but develop it once it's here.

Go Vols!

537081 writes:

Thank goodness for the Sullin twins. Where would we be now without them? I think they deserve much more credit than they are getting.

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