Strange: Third down is defying solutions

Mike Strange

UT offense: Dropped balls, penalties and 3-and-outs

It's third-and-7 Saturday at Tiger Stadium. Matt Simms steps back and fires a pass to Luke Stocker for a 9-yard gain.

The referee signals first down. And CBS play-by-play man Craig Bolerjack can't resist:

"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!''

OK, the Vols making third-and-7 against LSU isn't quite "Miracle on Ice" stuff. But it would be unprecedented in 2010.

One of the earmarks of efficient offensive football is third-down conversions. It's how you sustain drives to get in scoring range. It's how you rest your defense.

As everyone in the state of Tennessee who has access to a newspaper, a radio, a TV, the Internet or a next-door neighbor knows, the Vols rank 119th out of 120 FBS teams this week in third-down conversions.

Out of 58 tries, the Vols have moved the chains only 11 times. Rounding up, that's 19 percent.

All things considered you'd like to be somewhere in the 40s, UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Wednesday.

"It's unfortunate,'' Chaney said of the current doldrums. "You try to work your way out of it and you just try to keep swinging.

"Eventually you'll come out and make some plays.''

Here's some perspective on 19 percent. UT's 2008 offense was considered the worst in memory. It hit third down 35 percent of the time.

That's the lowest conversion rate going back at least to the pre-Peyton era.

The '98 national champs were relatively modest converters at 39.2 percent. In 1997, Manning's senior year, it was 45.6 percent.

In 2006, when David Cutcliffe returned as coordinator to resurrect Erik Ainge, the Vols hit a robust 48 percent.

Last year, with Chaney and Lane Kiffin running the offense, it was a workable 40 percent.

But a lot has changed since last year. Namely, almost all of the offensive personnel.

Rampant inexperience is the chief culprit, manifested in problems with pass protection, run blocking, route running and accurate and timely throws.

"Generally,'' said coach Derek Dooley, "when you're where we are on third downs, it is everything.

"We've just got to play out of it.''

There's good news and there's bad news.

The good news is the Vols are a perfect 7-0 on third-and-2 or shorter.

The bad news is 34 have been third-and-7 or longer and UT hasn't converted a single one of them.

That's right. UT's longest conversion is third-and-6.

A full 24 have been third-and-10 or longer, which means you're getting nothing done on first or second down.

"Against Florida,'' Chaney said, "we lost first down. Last week (against UAB) we were near 60 percent efficiency on first down and second down was the one that nipped us in the butt.''

Chaney's goal is to put players in position to make plays. On numerous occasions, he has.

On consecutive possessions against UAB, Justin Hunter and Zach Rogers dropped passes that would have converted third-and-long.

Against Florida, Tauren Poole lost a fumble after a 31-yard gain on third-and-5.

A 19-yard completion to Da'Rick Rogers on third-and-10 against Florida was wiped off by an illegal-formation penalty.

And so it goes. Tiger Stadium and LSU's defense probably aren't the ideal prescription to get well.

"We'll have our work cut out for us to try to get third-and-short,'' Chaney said.

On the other hand it can't get much worse. After going 2-for-15 against UAB, Dooley joked that Johnny Majors had been lobbying to put a quick kick back in the playbook.

At least, we think he was joking.

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

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Comments » 37

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

The Vols will break though this weekend. We get back some of our weapons and Simms and the Oline will continue to get better and better. Go Vols!!!

VolinCalif writes:

in response to bspurlingcac#225603:

The Vols will break though this weekend. We get back some of our weapons and Simms and the Oline will continue to get better and better. Go Vols!!!

Death Valley is no place to try getting well. But I think we will play a lot better than last week.
Go Vols

orangeblood8456 writes:

its really simple, get your first downs on second and short. spread it out then run or pass. the more receivers the less to rush simms and safety valves for the blitz.

MidTennVol writes:

A quick pick is exactly the type of play that could define this team, this staff, this head coach, and Tennessee football for years to come.

If it worked, it would become legend, even if we lose the game.

Even if it didn't work, it would demonstrate stones to anyone who watched the endless replays, especially young recruits.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

FWBVol writes:

I believe some of the play calling on second down against UAB was questionable. On second and seven or more it seemed as if there were a lot of longer pass plays called that went incomplete, which set up the third and long.

If they through a little flare to a running back out of the backfield and can pick up half of a second-and-long then third down becomes a short yardage play or a mid yardage play.

I know it's easy for me to be an armchair quarterback especially when I don't have to worry about a bunch of freshmen and sophomores getting the job done.

pms151 writes:

This is a coaching problem folks.

Tennfan4075 writes:

in response to pms151:

This is a coaching problem folks.

Coaches don't miss blocks, coaches don't drop passes, coaches don't run incorrect routes, coaches don't fumble. The problem is lack of quality athletes to coach.

volsfannsc writes:

in response to Tennfan4075:

Coaches don't miss blocks, coaches don't drop passes, coaches don't run incorrect routes, coaches don't fumble. The problem is lack of quality athletes to coach.

I disagree. Coaching execution is everything. I even feel that geting the team up for a game like UAB falls directly in the coaches lap. In the coaches defense, it seems that there is so much to coach due to a lack of talent. I could see months of nothing but coaching and practicing to get these young kids to a level of quality play. Youth and inexperience is not this current regimes fault. Dooley can blame this on the previous two coaches. We all knew this wasn't going to be easy, especially Dooley.

gvegasvol writes:

Every bit as damaging to the Vols is the defense on 3rd down. We are back to the days of 3rd and chavis. Last week was the most frustrating game I have watched in years. I mean...uab converting on 3rd and long on a consistent basis. The sad thing is Wilcox was the only coach I was really excited about - he did incredible things with 2 star talent at Boise St. Here...not so much.

jobrando#216494 writes:

Do we now hold the NCAA record for 3rd and long conversion failures? Maybe they dont even record it. The quick kick could be a good weapon. Majors was an expert at it. I hope Bray has his body armor ready. He is to lanky to take much punishment. We may be to Nash before this October is over.

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to gvegasvol:

Every bit as damaging to the Vols is the defense on 3rd down. We are back to the days of 3rd and chavis. Last week was the most frustrating game I have watched in years. I mean...uab converting on 3rd and long on a consistent basis. The sad thing is Wilcox was the only coach I was really excited about - he did incredible things with 2 star talent at Boise St. Here...not so much.

The funniest thing ive seen is a big defensive end trying to keep up with a WR. Seems like a waste of his time. Kind of like an elite back yard defense we ran as kids. I'm still giving them until mid November before i doubt the coaches. It's critical to show improvement and win out November.

TommyJack writes:

in response to SECFB:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Duh

Hickmc writes:

in response to gvegasvol:

Every bit as damaging to the Vols is the defense on 3rd down. We are back to the days of 3rd and chavis. Last week was the most frustrating game I have watched in years. I mean...uab converting on 3rd and long on a consistent basis. The sad thing is Wilcox was the only coach I was really excited about - he did incredible things with 2 star talent at Boise St. Here...not so much.

Remember he also had a full roster so they were ableto rotate players to keep them fresh. 60 scholarship players is very hard to overcome when all your opponents have 85.

look at the other article on Smith. You have a Freshman Defensive End playing all positions along the line because of a lack of bodies.

Give our coaches time before passing judgment. We all knew it would be a long path back. I heard a comment by a couple of reporters who said something I hadn't thought about. Every time we have a player go down with an injury that is one less scholarship athlete we have available to play. With a long SEC schedule injuries are going to happen so simply because of our lack of depth this team could be playing worse at the end of the year instead of better. Individual players will be playing better but as a team they could be worse.

I say give them time and get behind them.

Go VOLS!!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

The funniest thing ive seen is a big defensive end trying to keep up with a WR. Seems like a waste of his time. Kind of like an elite back yard defense we ran as kids. I'm still giving them until mid November before i doubt the coaches. It's critical to show improvement and win out November.

As I said on another thread, this is not at all uncommon in zone blitz schemes. It sends blitzers from unexpected directions but sometimes requires DE's and LB's to cover faster receivers. This is not strictly a man-to-man coverage and is not expected to continue down the field. Hopefully, the rush results in a quick pass or a sack, preventing the offense from exploiting the resulting mismatches. Our main problem is that we haven't gotten enough pressure on the QB's to get away with the unconventional coverages. These schemes are some of the "tricks" Wilcox has had to use to try to cover our lack of pressure from the front four.

thevoice writes:

in response to Tennfan4075:

Coaches don't miss blocks, coaches don't drop passes, coaches don't run incorrect routes, coaches don't fumble. The problem is lack of quality athletes to coach.

I disagree too. These are BCS-type players. Are you saying that throughout the SEC, we just happen to have the only team that has the type of players who drop passes, can't tackle, miss blocks, and run wrong routes? I don't think so. How do you think Saban and Myers turned their programs around quickly? COACHING up players!!!

thevoice writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

Do we now hold the NCAA record for 3rd and long conversion failures? Maybe they dont even record it. The quick kick could be a good weapon. Majors was an expert at it. I hope Bray has his body armor ready. He is to lanky to take much punishment. We may be to Nash before this October is over.

Quick kick? Did you actually mean quick pick? Either way, we give the OL a little rest.

eb502us#225637 writes:

While we definetely have a young offensive line, much of our problems can be laid at the feet of Jim Chaney. Play calling has been horrible.

He knows our offensive line can't hold up under an average pass rush, yet we do nothing to keep the defense honest. No draw plays, slants, middle screens, shovel passes, or any kind of play call where Simms only needs to take a two step drop. Instead, he takes a five step drop on third down (long or short) and gets swamped within seconds when our coaches damn well know we've had problems all day with protection. Also, how many times have our our receivers run routes that are short of the first down marker. Answer: Too many to count.

You have to coach to the strengths and weaknesses of your team and our OC hasn't had a clue thus far. He's bringing back memories of Randy Sanders and Dave Clawson, because he's been that bad.

Hickmc writes:

in response to VandyGrad:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Please remind me when I said that sir/ma'am. I have laways been 100% behind UT and their athletes. If a kid (yes 18-22 is till a kid in my eyes) does not want to be here I say let them go with a full release. Please don't try to lump all fans together as one because as we both know there are trolls out there just trying to stir the pot.

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to thevoice:

Quick kick? Did you actually mean quick pick? Either way, we give the OL a little rest.

No quick kick. It was where majors line up in the single wing as in every play but on 3rd he often punted and heck it would roll 60-70 yards down field. He was good at the drop kick field goal 2. He was a little fella but had talent.

RockyTop1_old writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

No quick kick. It was where majors line up in the single wing as in every play but on 3rd he often punted and heck it would roll 60-70 yards down field. He was good at the drop kick field goal 2. He was a little fella but had talent.

Don't be too hard on "thevoice" that would require that he understand football history! GBO!!

tnsportsman writes:

Did a little reseach on our 4 games. On 3rd down, look at the drop passes, penalties, turn-overs and 2 delay of game. This is football but proves this young team needs playing time and correction of the mistakes. If these plays had been successful our 3rd down conversion would be 36%. IMO, it looks like the mistakes are things that can be corrected. Yeah, Yeah, I know the 'If and Buts', but mistakes are mental.

Play hard BIG ORANGE for 60 minutes at LSU. Show some guts, be focused, catch the passes, limit mistakes and WE might come out of there with a win!

GO VOLS, BEAT LSU!

WytheVol writes:

in response to VandyGrad:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No... Actually we don't. You would have to understand sports to thoroughly understand this concept though. You see... When a player has mentally quit on your team, they become a cancer and create distractions. So no matter how good of an athlete they are, they become very bad for your team concept. I know you folks over at Vandy are book smart, and have very little to cheer for in athletics. So I hope this little tidbit helps you understand a little more about sports. You should try watching some football games from time to time too. You might learn a few things...

murrayvol writes:

in response to SECFB:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Brilliant! The Sabanator could use a man like you.

Down_The_Field writes:

in response to SECFB:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

they say having more points than you opponent at the end of regulation is important too.

navarrebeachvol writes:

in response to SECFB:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Two words: Rocket Scientist....

gvegasvol writes:

in response to Hickmc:

Remember he also had a full roster so they were ableto rotate players to keep them fresh. 60 scholarship players is very hard to overcome when all your opponents have 85.

look at the other article on Smith. You have a Freshman Defensive End playing all positions along the line because of a lack of bodies.

Give our coaches time before passing judgment. We all knew it would be a long path back. I heard a comment by a couple of reporters who said something I hadn't thought about. Every time we have a player go down with an injury that is one less scholarship athlete we have available to play. With a long SEC schedule injuries are going to happen so simply because of our lack of depth this team could be playing worse at the end of the year instead of better. Individual players will be playing better but as a team they could be worse.

I say give them time and get behind them.

Go VOLS!!!

Yea...I understand that and agree. I am a Vol fan and will always be - saw my first game in 1968. I really do like Dooley and his staff - especially Wilcox - just was really frustrated by the past few games. As for passing judgement - no need for that - they know more about their job than I do!

gvegasvol writes:

in response to Down_The_Field:

they say having more points than you opponent at the end of regulation is important too.

Now that's funny!

mercyseat writes:

in response to Tennfan4075:

Coaches don't miss blocks, coaches don't drop passes, coaches don't run incorrect routes, coaches don't fumble. The problem is lack of quality athletes to coach.

I think you're both right, but Chaney has us passing way to much for a team that is supposed to be a run first offense. We also are struggling to maintain momentum by not getting in a rhythm. If you're making plays and moving the ball, quit pulling the hot playmaker with a guy that been sitting on the bench dead azz cold! It's just ignorant! Oh.. here's something, try playing 11 men on the field! We might just be able to compete better. Geeeeeeeez!

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to gvegasvol:

Every bit as damaging to the Vols is the defense on 3rd down. We are back to the days of 3rd and chavis. Last week was the most frustrating game I have watched in years. I mean...uab converting on 3rd and long on a consistent basis. The sad thing is Wilcox was the only coach I was really excited about - he did incredible things with 2 star talent at Boise St. Here...not so much.

He will do incredible things here @ UT before his career is complete here..It is only his first year and going into his fifth game...Give him time and the same goes for ALL the coaches.

mercyseat writes:

in response to SECFB:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree with you, and Wilcox himself said that sure tackling and the ability to create turnovers was mandatory for his defense to be successful,so you would think he'd be drilling this in their heads, especially since we can't convert 3rd downs!

Ralph_Crampton writes:

The crowd at Neyland Stadium has lost its effect ....As Vols run through the T, the opposing has learned to come out on the field at the same time...attempting to smother any intimation the Vols have. In fact the crowd has an effect of making the opponent play harder. Coach Doug Dickey came up with the idea of running through the T...he copied the tactics of the Texas Longhorns' fans who sang the "eyes of Texas are upon you", it used to intimedate opponent...coaches like "Bear" and Neyland used to keep their teams inside the dressing room, Neyland once said.""."..A.fter they shed their tears we are to go out and ram the ball down their throat". The hostile Texans riled up the Vols.....Does the crowd help a home team...but not like it once did.

mercyseat writes:

in response to VandyGrad:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And we don't need you!.... So would you just please die! Not one person on here wants to hear from you. Everyone on here is laughing at you! Aren't you embarrassed enough? Pathetic...you're just pathetic!

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to SECFB:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thank you Captain Obvious...

HallowedHill writes:

Here are the solution(s):
1) Gain more on 1st down
2) Gain more on 2nd down

GO VOLS!

claiborneh writes:

The woes can be summarized in one sentence in this article- "A full 24 have been third-and-10 or longer, which means you're getting nothing done on first or second down."

Timed_vol (Inactive) writes:

Seriously?? This should not be a huge surprise. We've played two top-10 teams, and a decent UAB squad. We have very little confidence or cohesion.

Matt is an average QB at best, working with limited game experience and a young O-line. Mix in dropped balls, poor routes, on and on....

With our sched, we may not get a lot better. All i can ask is that we at least PLAY HARD, and show some sings of improvement here and there.

BTW, I like Matt, no complaints. He is what he is, and he's got some guts.

Hickmc writes:

in response to gvegasvol:

Yea...I understand that and agree. I am a Vol fan and will always be - saw my first game in 1968. I really do like Dooley and his staff - especially Wilcox - just was really frustrated by the past few games. As for passing judgement - no need for that - they know more about their job than I do!

Amen my friend sounds like you and I are around the same age as well. I never felt you were not a true Vol fan, we all just get frustrated. Lets blame the current "instant gratification" society that we live in today. Sometimes when you love and support a team so hard it is difficult to see them struggle, but that will make it that much better if we are able to get back to the Championship level in a few years.

I like to look and listen to the various opinions people give when they are being honest and not simply trying to antagonize or create an argument, because when you get several opinions together and start pulling parts from all the various ideas you can usually get some good things from it.

I hadn't thought about how injuries would be playing out come late October and November but I was watching a sports talk show and Mike Strange and Jimmy Hyams brought that up and I thought that made perfect sense even though it hadn't crossed my mind before.

Here's to hoping we have a reason to celebrate Saturday evening!!!! Go VOLS!!!!

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