Strange: Vols' task: Holding those Tigers

Mike Strange

On Nov. 29 of last year, Tennessee and Auburn were both shutting down for the season. At 5-7, no bowl bids were forthcoming.

Tennessee at least sent Phillip Fulmer out with a win over Kentucky. Auburn’s finale was a 36-0 drubbing from Alabama, setting the stage for Tommy Tuberville’s resignation a couple of days later.

Fulmer and Tuberville both became unwanted because their respective offenses were a mess. The Vols and Tigers averaged a matching 17.3 points a game.

When they met at Jordan-Hare Stadium last year, it was a tandem exercise in futility — or a punting showcase, depending on how you look at it.

In the decisive fourth quarter nobody could make a first down. Auburn won, 14-12, because it finally did, with 2:04 to play, and was able to run out the clock.

Well, Tigers, you’ve come along way, baby.

Tennessee’s offensive progress in 2009 under Lane Kiffin is measurable, but comes in fits and starts.

Auburn, under Gene Chizik, has been shot out of a cannon. Might the Tigers score 17.3 points in the first quarter Saturday at Neyland Stadium?

Auburn is spewing 45.3 points and 526 yards a game, ranking third nationally in both.

Last year quarterback Chris Todd couldn’t hit a tree on Toomer’s Corner with a roll of toilet paper (OK, permit an exaggeration). This year his pass-efficiency rating of 171.5 ranks sixth in the nation. He has 11 thrown TD passes and but one interception.

No one-trick pony, Auburn rushes for 261 yards a game, fifth best in the nation.

Most important, Auburn is 4-0. Tennessee is 2-2.

Has Auburn really made that much more progress than Tennessee? Tune in ESPN for the answer Saturday.

This we know: UT’s offense has faced one great defense (Florida) and one very good one (UCLA). In winning all four games comfortably Auburn has yet to meet that kind of resistance.

This we also know: Chizik made a great hire when he signed Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator. Malzahn is in only his fourth year as a college coach but his track record speaks for itself.

His two Tulsa offenses each averaged more than 540 yards per game. In 2006, when Houston Nutt hired him from a high school to direct Arkansas’ offense, the Razorbacks went 10-4 and won the SEC West.

The night Arkansas beat UT 31-14, Malzahn’s offense had a 28-7 lead by the half. I remember thinking I had rarely seen a John Chavis defense seemingly at such a loss about how to defend an opponent.

“It’s a wilder offense than Florida’s,’’ Kiffin said Tuesday. “There’s so much stuff going on.

“My dad (defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) said it’s like trying to read a book and someone’s waving his hand in front of the book.

“You’re trying to look at what’s going on and you can’t really see it. You can’t focus because there’s so much misdirection and shifting and motion.’’

Tennessee’s new offense, by contrast, is considerably more straight-forward. That’s part design and part reaction.

For whatever reasons, Jonathan Crompton hasn’t advanced as a quarterback like Auburn’s Todd has. Crompton often still seems stuck in 2008.

And that affects his play-caller — Kiffin.

Kiffin eloquently addressed the dual role of play-caller and head coach Tuesday. The task weighs heavier than when he was merely calling plays at Southern Cal and letting Pete Carroll deal with the bottom line.

“When you’re a play-caller as a coordinator, it’s almost impossible to put the team first,’’ he said. “You’re not even watching what’s going on on defense. It’s how can we move the ball, instead of how can we win the game?’’

The coordinator might allow an errant quarterback to plow on and throw through his problems. Not so the head coach.

“I go back the other way,’’ Kiffin said. “We’ve got to win the game. So what’s the best way to win the game?’’

When your QB is throwing interceptions and you can’t always count on your receivers being on the spot, you get conservative.

“Hopefully,’’ Kiffin said, “there will be a game coming up where we can keep moving it through the air.’’

Whether that game is Auburn remains to be seen. So does whether the Vols will even try to make Auburn that game.

Somebody asked Kiffin if the last thing he wants to see Saturday is a shootout.

“I wouldn’t say that’s the last thing,’’ he said. “The last thing is for them to score a lot of points and us not.

“So if they’re scoring a bunch of points, I hope we’re scoring a bunch of points.’’

If that turns out to be the case, it’ll be a far cry from last year.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 52

smashmouth98 writes:

this will be a big test for the Vols. Hopefully we can manage the game and come out with a W!!!!!!

djgovols writes:

Not sure all the blame is on Crompton for our passing wowes but if we cant start throwing the ball get ready for a 4 maybe 5 win season. Lets hope we get some significant improvement at receiver and QB next spring and the coaches continue to teach these young guys up !!!!

All_Vol writes:

If we start to get blown out we better see someone else at QB besides Crompton. He's had more than a fair shot at it.

Vol_in_Mich writes:

This ain't going to be easy. At least we're talking about Auburn & not still talking about the Gators this week. (Almost forgot about Ohio didn't we)
I hate to say it, but this may be one of those "Must Win Games"
GO VOLS!!!

crimsonviper writes:

Montario Hardesty can have the game of his career.Good luck Vols and get after em'.

govols7462 writes:

we HAVE to win this game or this team goes belly up

volcycle writes:

Hard to get a read on this game. UT has played more quality opponents, but UAs schedule hasn't been a total pushover. I have to say UT wins. I just hope the chemistry needed happens between Crompton and the receivers. Keep improving guys!!

Go Vols!!!

TDTN writes:

I still will be shocked if Nick Stephens touches the field again. We are playing a lot of underclassman this year getting them ready for the future, while expecting them to perform now. Kiffin has shown he is more than willing to let the seniors sit while the younger guys are on the field if he thinks it is best for the team. If the battle for the starting job between the two QB's was a close as we are told, I think Stephens would be on the field now to try and win while getting better for next season. Keeping a senior QB on the field sends a message to high school seniors QB's that next year the job is wide open. If Stephens were expected to be the guy next year I think he would be playing now. The remainder of this season may be painful and the wins may be ugly like last week but our turn is coming. Another recruiting class or two and we will be equal to the rest of the SEC in talent. We have already seen a much needed attitude adjustment and the message has been made loud and clear that the Vols are finished being the floor mat for Fla and Bama and LSU and....Go Vols!!

the10sevol writes:

thank you, mike strange and kns. i whined last week about the lack of ohio coverage until late in the week. articles like this are exactly what we need to start our (the fans') game week preparations. well-written, analytical, with coaching backgrounds and team comparisons.

if i'm gonna whine when i don't like your stuff (and i am, trust me), i must give props when earned. great job.

GBO

whatcanbrowndoforyou writes:

We have to get something going through the air no doubt about it. If our passing game don't improve were probably looking at a 4 win season. If it does improve then we are in business. Im a believer so I for some reason think it's going to get better. I've heard of some BIG name recruits going to be in big neyland saturday night so the crowd needs to be loud and proud to show these kids what the orange nation is all about. . . A win wouldn't hurt either. GO VOLS!!!!

SLOBBER_knocker_U writes:

in response to durangokid01#608209:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

troll

dvols writes:

gus vs. monte.....should be good!

tnlizard writes:

in response to Vol_in_Mich:

This ain't going to be easy. At least we're talking about Auburn & not still talking about the Gators this week. (Almost forgot about Ohio didn't we)
I hate to say it, but this may be one of those "Must Win Games"
GO VOLS!!!

Every game is a must win

tractoronthepole writes:

in response to crimsonviper:

Montario Hardesty can have the game of his career.Good luck Vols and get after em'.

Interesting to have you as a one game fan.

ThurmondEppy writes:

in response to smokeybones:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

yawn.

lowman4vols writes:

if we lose due to crompton, kiffin will pull the trigger, his reactions this week have been different concerning crompton. book it.

Pullingguard writes:

Whats wrong with the receivers? Is it a coaching problem? You have spring, fall and 4 games and a good coach would have this fixed. The WR coach came with some ?????? marks based on his lack of past high quality experience...One has to wonder about the QB's failing to progress under both Fulmer and Kiffin. Evidently neither have had a Malzahn coaching them up to quality.

tenuscvol writes:

UT 30 AU 24

Berry gets an interception...

Anyway, sure hope that's the way it goes...

GoVols! Beat Bama! (and Auburn)

jcoop9909 writes:

keep their offense off the field..they dont have a florida defense, we can def run the ball on these guys..control the clock and score TD's instead of field goals. that is what we gotta do. And pray that if we get into passing situations then Crompton can make the throws

crimsonviper writes:

in response to the10sevol:

thank you, mike strange and kns. i whined last week about the lack of ohio coverage until late in the week. articles like this are exactly what we need to start our (the fans') game week preparations. well-written, analytical, with coaching backgrounds and team comparisons.

if i'm gonna whine when i don't like your stuff (and i am, trust me), i must give props when earned. great job.

GBO

After reading your post 10 i suppose i should do the same,since i complained several times myself.
props to Mike Strange and KNS,GOOD STORY!

lowman4vols writes:

auburn's run defense hasn't been that good this year. we manage the clock and make a few plays.
vols 24-20.
go vols!

givehim6 writes:

Just a crazy thought but since UT offence i so predictable with corompton at QB UT could do this. Play Crompton and its usual offence on some plays then Stevens and more of a drop back pocket pass at times. Then a NU-gun type offence and then a direct snap to Berry. We have different weapons to use, UT could a coffusing offence also.

xvolx writes:

in response to durangokid01#608209:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That old man Kiffin has forgotten more football than you know. You disrespectful punk.

memphis_vol_fan writes:

in response to marc_ash#231781:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

marcash what is your definition of a miracle? Personally, I think we still can win 6-7 games this year (even with Crompton at QB)

Slystone writes:

Time for a reality check. UT cannot win the big games with Crompton at QB. Obviously Stephens has not shown to be any better in practice otherwise he would be starting. If this team cannot pull out a win against either Auburn, Georgia or Bama then lets pray the recruits stay committed.

Stepchild_nFL writes:

It's Berry at the 50, the 40, the 30, the 20, the 10,
5,4,3,2,1 Touchdooown TENNESSEE!!!!!... Well... Mama always told me to dream.

VolNWA writes:

I had a bad feeling going into the UCLA game and thought we might lose. I felt a little better about Fla. and thought we could hang closer than most thought (I thought it would be in the 14-20 spread range) That said, I have a feeling we get it done Saturday night to go to 3-2.

the10sevol writes:

in response to marc_ash#231781:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

spot on as usual, marcus.

GBO

the10sevol writes:

in response to TennesseeBigMan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

au with a suspect d and uT with a suspect o.
au with an explosive o and uT with an explosive d.
so the difference might boil down to special teams...coached by Gran. hmmm, another story line (hint to kns).

GBO

dma38256#264746 writes:

in response to smokeybones:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What part of "rebuilding season" do you not understand?

AllVol1 writes:

We have given up 72 points in four games. Auburn has given up 97. Head to head comparison shows that UT run defense is ranked 18th and Auburn is ranked 89th. I repeat Auburn's rushing D is ranked 89th and they have faced teams whose rushing offenses rank: Miss St--22nd, W VA--53rd, Ball St.--82nd, and LA Tech--110th. We will run on Auburn. We ran against the 6th ranked run D (UCLA) and the 23rd (FL). For all the talk of their balanced attack, they ran against meager run defenses. (According to Rivals: Run Defenses Rankings W VA--9th*, Miss St.--63rd, LA Tech--100th, Ball St.-107th.)*Keep in mind that W VA has only played Liberty and E Carolina and Auburn; so their defensive ranking at 9th is unimpressive. My goodness, Auburn better have some significant offensive stats. Will Auburn be able to pass against us? We are 20th in Pass D. They are 44th. There is a good reason Auburn is not ranked. I am not saying we are much better, but Auburn has not really been on proving ground yet. This Saturday, Neyland stadium is proving ground for two schools who are trying to send the message that they are truly turning their programs around. If we can pass, we will win by 14. If not, I still think we can out-slug them, but it may be a nail-biter. I believe in Kiffin. However, this Gus fellow at Auburn is going to be formidable in the coming years. He's made a name for himself. It would be HUGE--HUGE for Monte's D to shut that carnival down cold.

asleep#212036 writes:

in response to BIGGEST_UT_FAN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think Malzahn had already left to go to Tulsa by then but I could be wrong.

asleep#212036 writes:

in response to marc_ash#231781:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Unfortunately, I completely agree. It's always darkest just before the dawn and I'm afraid we haven't seen the worst of the night yet! Kiffin is willing to trash this year, and maybe even the next, to get us back to where we should be. Our talent deficit with the other top-tier SEC schools is becoming more obvious week by week and you just can't fix that overnight. What you can do is play lots of freshmen and sophomores, recruit like crazy using that as bait, and wait for the new talent and the new-found experience of the up and coming young guys to pay off big-time down the road. I'm ok with that. Go Vols!!!

TommyJack writes:

in response to durangokid01#608209:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No diss to Lamaison, but I believe he was signed to be a career clip board holder.

the10sevol writes:

in response to AllVol1:

We have given up 72 points in four games. Auburn has given up 97. Head to head comparison shows that UT run defense is ranked 18th and Auburn is ranked 89th. I repeat Auburn's rushing D is ranked 89th and they have faced teams whose rushing offenses rank: Miss St--22nd, W VA--53rd, Ball St.--82nd, and LA Tech--110th. We will run on Auburn. We ran against the 6th ranked run D (UCLA) and the 23rd (FL). For all the talk of their balanced attack, they ran against meager run defenses. (According to Rivals: Run Defenses Rankings W VA--9th*, Miss St.--63rd, LA Tech--100th, Ball St.-107th.)*Keep in mind that W VA has only played Liberty and E Carolina and Auburn; so their defensive ranking at 9th is unimpressive. My goodness, Auburn better have some significant offensive stats. Will Auburn be able to pass against us? We are 20th in Pass D. They are 44th. There is a good reason Auburn is not ranked. I am not saying we are much better, but Auburn has not really been on proving ground yet. This Saturday, Neyland stadium is proving ground for two schools who are trying to send the message that they are truly turning their programs around. If we can pass, we will win by 14. If not, I still think we can out-slug them, but it may be a nail-biter. I believe in Kiffin. However, this Gus fellow at Auburn is going to be formidable in the coming years. He's made a name for himself. It would be HUGE--HUGE for Monte's D to shut that carnival down cold.

note to kns: hire this person.

GBO

REVOL writes:

The best way to slow Auburn down is run the football, run the clock and don't let their offense on the field. It will also wear down their defense. That's what this offense does best. We also need to play better special teams. We need a big return or two. Go Vols! Beat Auburn!

LibertyVolance writes:

in response to smokeybones:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I can only speak for how I feel. Can't speak for others. It's going to be a fun game to see and I like our chances. I've no idea on how it finishes or plays out. I want to see progress and have found some in execution, timing, and the running game. This game won't have an effect on how I judge Kiffin. I do think this game will tell much about how good or bad we might be the remainder of this year. It will take a game like Aub to gage our chances against Ga, SC, and OM.

LibertyVolance writes:

in response to marc_ash#231781:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Now come on. How many true freshmen get to start in the sec? Not saying it couldn't happen, but it is unlikely unless Stephens was a complete bust and gave way to a freshmen later in the season. A true freshmen is hardly going to know the offense until a few weeks have passed.

LibertyVolance writes:

in response to TennesseeBigMan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well I know what. Regardless, win or lose, the fulmerfans are still going to be trying to backstab Kiffin and criticize the 09 team. They loved their fatman more than the UT Vols.

Cldvols1 writes:

in response to marc_ash#231781:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just the facts? Okay, unlike Stephens or Laimaison he's a starting QB for UT Chattanooga. Last year the team went 1-12 and now they're 3-1 with him at the helm. Yea they beat Presbyterian but they also beat Wofford 38-9, whom they lost to last year 56-7. B.J. left bc he said he wasn't getting a fair chance at QB, hmm sounds eerily siilar to NS and NL's situation. I love UT football, always have and I hope JC can pull it together! If B.J. were there would he be sitting on the bench like the others? Can't blame him for transferring back home so he could start and put up some good numbers. Just stating the facts!

Cldvols1 writes:

in response to AllVol1:

We have given up 72 points in four games. Auburn has given up 97. Head to head comparison shows that UT run defense is ranked 18th and Auburn is ranked 89th. I repeat Auburn's rushing D is ranked 89th and they have faced teams whose rushing offenses rank: Miss St--22nd, W VA--53rd, Ball St.--82nd, and LA Tech--110th. We will run on Auburn. We ran against the 6th ranked run D (UCLA) and the 23rd (FL). For all the talk of their balanced attack, they ran against meager run defenses. (According to Rivals: Run Defenses Rankings W VA--9th*, Miss St.--63rd, LA Tech--100th, Ball St.-107th.)*Keep in mind that W VA has only played Liberty and E Carolina and Auburn; so their defensive ranking at 9th is unimpressive. My goodness, Auburn better have some significant offensive stats. Will Auburn be able to pass against us? We are 20th in Pass D. They are 44th. There is a good reason Auburn is not ranked. I am not saying we are much better, but Auburn has not really been on proving ground yet. This Saturday, Neyland stadium is proving ground for two schools who are trying to send the message that they are truly turning their programs around. If we can pass, we will win by 14. If not, I still think we can out-slug them, but it may be a nail-biter. I believe in Kiffin. However, this Gus fellow at Auburn is going to be formidable in the coming years. He's made a name for himself. It would be HUGE--HUGE for Monte's D to shut that carnival down cold.

Excellent point and analysis! And that is why they're 4-0 and still not ranked. I've seen this team play and there pretty good, but they haven't faced a D like UT yet this year. Vols win a knock down drag out game 24-21!

beAU writes:

Hey Vols, I'm an Auburn fan with lots of Big Orange friends. We're coming up to the Rocky Top to see what I hope will be a great ball game. I must say, for the most part this is a pretty good blog with interesting people making intelligent comments. Just like the ones in the state south of you, there is some wishful thinking and a little venting here and there, but pretty nice. Unlike in our home state, you don't have a serious in-state rival that clogs yours up with inane, stupid comments while you are trying to have a decent dialogue among yourselves (Oh wait, you'll probably get to see that for yourselves the week before you play the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa).

I am proud of how our new coaches and players are doing this season and we look forward to the test of your big-a** stadium and all the noise 107,000+ fans can make.

We are looking forward to seeing friends and watching a great football team among two class schools this weekend, and may the Vols grab a strong second place on the scoreboard. Any other weekend, Go Vols! This Weekend, WAR EAGLE!

volsfannsc writes:

Amusing. Most here complained about CLK's game plan against Florida yet that's exactly what everyone here is calling for this Saturday. I think the reality of what we have as a team must be setting in. ( that and the fact that some are learning not to second-guess the coaches) The improvement at Auburn tells me that Tuberville left AU in better shape than Fulmer in TN. I actually feel that our coaches are doing more with less. I'm thankful that this team has shown signs of life in attitude and that alone speaks volumes. I know our D is banged up, but think Monte knows this game is a turning point in the season. I expect the D to be ready to play. Watching last Saturday's game, Crompton showed small improvement (which is huge) while the receivers showed they are big contributors in our offensive problems. I hope this gets a lot of attention and gets worked out soon or it leaves us totally one dimensional. We can't expect our OL and their lack of depth to carry us through the season. This is a big game and I think the outcome will rest on how sly our coaching staff plays this game.

calvol writes:

in response to smokeybones:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The program is on the right track. The team is putting forth a good attitude and effort. It will take a couple of years to bring in the talent necessary to win. The talent void we're currently coping with ought to be evident by the number of freshmen playing, lack of depth at line positions, and outright poor play by QB's and receivers. This is a rebuilding year, and to paraphrase the great John Wooden, we need to measure their success by the quality of their effort, and not the result on the scoreboard.

DC_Vol writes:

in response to Witch_Doctor:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Nice catch Witchy. I read several of his posts as well and your analysis per usual is spot on.

Say can you dance around the fire chanting "UT Wins" and cast one of your Witch Doctor spells to help our UT boys win Saturday night? UT fans would be very grateful!!!
Or better yet maybe you can put a curse on Auburn to turn the ball over five or six times to the Big Orange!!!

seventysevenvol writes:

Malzahn uses the pass and screen to set up the run. They do NOT have a good running game...their running stats are misleading as they haven't played but one good team: WVU. They do have two good backs- one's a burner, one's a truck- but the OL is not a good hole opening power group. They zone block and seal utilizing a lot of mis-direction runs...if we force them out of their dink and screen passing, we win.

JSOLOMON31 writes:

in response to All_Vol:

If we start to get blown out we better see someone else at QB besides Crompton. He's had more than a fair shot at it.

I AGREE!!!

volvoice writes:

If we need to get into a 'scorefest' with Auburn, we're in trouble. Their defense is suspect and not big, but quick. Run right at them; ball control.

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to Pullingguard:

Whats wrong with the receivers? Is it a coaching problem? You have spring, fall and 4 games and a good coach would have this fixed. The WR coach came with some ?????? marks based on his lack of past high quality experience...One has to wonder about the QB's failing to progress under both Fulmer and Kiffin. Evidently neither have had a Malzahn coaching them up to quality.

If part of the problem truly involves the receivers, then I really wish they would have tried to hire Trooper Taylor. He's not only an amazing recruiter, but he's proven time again that he's an amazing position coach. Auburn is lucky to have him.

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to givehim6:

Just a crazy thought but since UT offence i so predictable with corompton at QB UT could do this. Play Crompton and its usual offence on some plays then Stevens and more of a drop back pocket pass at times. Then a NU-gun type offence and then a direct snap to Berry. We have different weapons to use, UT could a coffusing offence also.

I actually like that line of thought. With a lack of talent at skill positions and lack of depth at others, misdirection and confusion could benefit us a great deal. However, my fear in running an offense with misdirection, multiple QB's, etc would only confuse our own offense and encourage additional turnovers.

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