The wide receivers aren’t throwing interceptions.
They aren’t in charge of Tennessee’s conservative game plans, and they really haven’t even had much of a chance to make a difference lately because of them.
The targets surely aren’t the biggest problem right now for a team struggling so much in the passing game, but they’re certainly part of the equation as the Vols (1-2) try to put some air back in the ball against Ohio (2-1) on Saturday (TV: pay-per-view, 7 p.m.).
“Details,” UT coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday. “The littlest things. You go down to the second down on the goal line, and if Gerald (Jones) stays inbounds it’s a touchdown there. The third play, if Quintin (Hancock) motions out a little further it’s man coverage and we have a pick route that’s coming and he’s going to be open. He didn’t motion out quite far enough.
“Just real little details. On the interception, Gerald is supposed to go to the numbers before he turns up on the wheel route where he had that guy beat.”
Even if Jones didn’t run it exactly the way it was drawn up, he was still open and a good throw from Jonathan Crompton could have produced a touchdown. But the point was the Vols haven’t been executing as well as they need to, and not all the blame falls on the quarterback.
Part of the problem has been injuries to the wideouts. Jones (ankle) and Denarius Moore (foot) are just now going through their second healthy week of practice since going down during fall camp. That’s made timing an issue on both route-running and in missing some critical blocks on the perimeter, and it might still be a challenge with Hancock now expected to be out for a few weeks with a fractured jaw.
That should open up some chances for freshmen Marsalis Teague and Nu’Keese Richardson, but it remains to be seen if the Vols will open up the playbook as well.
“I look for us to have a much better week in the passing game,” Kiffin said. “We need our guys to step up, we’ve opened up the competition and I expect the young guys to have a really good week of practice and figure out who can help us win games out there.
“One thing is we haven’t given (any receivers) many opportunities, and that was part of the game plan last week. (Florida) had two great corners and we felt like there were other areas to go at that would be better matchups for us, so we need to give them more opportunities and they need to produce. This will be a big week for them. I anticipate rotating some guys in this week and see who plays the best in game situations for us.”
That approach is similar to the one UT took into it’s opener against Western Kentucky, and just about everybody it tried produced in the lopsided win. But in two losses since, the receivers have virtually disappeared.
Teague debuted in impressive fashion, making six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. He hasn’t caught a ball in the last two games.
Richardson hauled in three balls against Western Kentucky and briefly flashed his big-play potential with a 27-yard grab. He’s also been invisible since then.
In fact, the only receiver with a catch in all three games this season is Hancock — and that streak is going to end against Ohio.
“(It’s) just real little details,” Kiffin said. “In the passing game that’s so important. In the running game you can get by with it sometimes.
“In the running game for instance, if we don’t get off on a linebacker and (Montario) Hardesty makes him miss or runs him over, you can still have a productive play. But in the pass game you can’t do that.”
The receivers clearly aren’t the entire reason the Vols have struggled to do much in that area.
But just like a completion, if the problems start at quarterback, they finish at receiver.