Dooley: A shift in the offensive balance
Collectively, the Tennessee offense represents about as close to perfect balance as there is in the SEC.
But take a smaller sample size and focus on the last two games and the picture changes drastically.
The Vols officially still show up on the stat sheet as a team with a slight preference for the running game, but they've certainly put a big dent in the play-calling ratio since installing a new quarterback. Now the Vols are suddenly airing it out with regularity.
That's not exactly a coincidence, though the change in approach had been in the works even before Tyler Bray started scorching defenses.
And if opponents are also a factor, UT coach Derek Dooley probably won't go out of his way to even out his offense on Saturday (CSS, 7:30 p.m.) against struggling Vanderbilt in a game he needs to keep bowl hopes alive.
"You know, during that open week prior to Alabama, it was really a good time to evaluate where we were, where we needed to go during the second half, who was going to give us the best chance to win the games down the stretch, and I think there was a shift then," Dooley said during his Monday news conference. "We have some senior perimeter guys, and we've got to get them to do it.
"I felt like we needed to shift a little bit philosophically. We did it a little bit against Alabama, and we saw some good things. Then we did it some more against South Carolina and saw a lot of encouraging things."
The Vols (4-6, 1-5 SEC) took those positives and then piled on a lot more throws with Bray under center, and even more good things came with it as the offense rolled up a combined 102 points - including 52 last Saturday against Ole Miss - and the first winning streak of the season.
And while UT hasn't exactly abandoned its running game - tailback Tauren Poole has carried the ball just 28 times over the last two weeks - the scales have decidedly tipped towards the receivers. Heading into the trip to Vanderbilt (2-8, 1-6), the Vols officially have run the ball 10 more times than they've thrown it - but against Memphis and Ole Miss they dialed up 13 more passes despite tacking on carries late in both blowouts.
"I feel like (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney is going to take what the defense gives us," tight end Luke Stocker said. "If the defense loads eight guys in the box, we're going to throw the ball. If they put seven in the box, we're going to run the ball. I think whatever we're doing well that particular day, he's going to stick with it. It just seems the past few weeks we've done well at passing the ball, and our quarterback has been playing great.
"We had success running the ball early in the season, Tauren exploded against Oregon and he ran well against Alabama. It's just one of those things, it's consistency and we've been up and down a little bit. We found a little niche in the passing game here the past few weeks and it's done well for us."
It hasn't hurt that UT has been attacking defenses not known for strong play in the secondary, which has obviously influenced the game plan along with the emergence of Bray and the steady production from Stocker and fellow seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore.
The true test of the developing trend might come against the Commodores, since they're last in the league in rush defense and giving up exactly as many yards per game through the air as Ole Miss.
"Our run game wasn't what we wanted it to be, we weren't getting consistency in our play-action pass game as far as protection and probably weren't running it well enough to scare people to hurt them in the play-action game," Dooley said. "There's been a little shift, it's not a secret.
"Then certainly when Tyler went in it makes it even more pronounced because that's his strength."