UT offense: Dropped balls, penalties and 3-and-outs
Tennessee Stat Book
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-342-6276.