In one calendar year, Tennessee has truly come full circle on third downs.
After four games last season, the Vols, who were without top third-down target Gerald Jones at the time, were a paltry 11-of-54 on third downs.
On Saturday, alone, the Vols (3-1, 0-1 SEC) converted 12 third downs and missed on just four in the 41-10 romp of Buffalo (1-4, 0-1 Mid-American Conference).
The high success rate was nothing new for this year's Vols, who lead the SEC and are tied with Wisconsin for the nation's best third-down conversion percentage (62.07).
"When you stay on the field and continue to have success on third downs, it means a lot," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Sunday on "The Derek Dooley Show."
"We're not changing those plays a lot, haven't changed since last year. The offense is more familiar with what we're going to do and they're executing the plays."
The Vols' 36 third-down conversions in 58 chances go hand in hand with the large time of possession advantage they've held through the first four games. UT's offense has possessed the ball more than 40 minutes longer than its opponents, a total that also leads the SEC and ranks fifth in the nation.
Eight of the Vols' 23 scoring drives have gone 10 plays or longer. On those drives alone, the Vols converted 18 third downs.
When asked about the success on third down, quarterback Tyler Bray offered up a six-word answer.
"Line blocks and receivers getting open," he said.
Dooley elaborated further, but the theme was similar. Nothing's changed, the Vols are just executing at a higher level.
"Throwing and catching. That's what third down is," Dooley said. "It starts with protection. You have to give him a chance to throw it. Then a good accurate throw then a good, precise route.
"So far we have been pretty good and we are going to need to be. These teams we play coming up are a lot better on third-down defense than what we have seen."
Appropriately, that will start Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) at Neyland Stadium against Georgia. The Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1), who limited Mississippi State to just four third-down conversions on 15 tries in their 24-10 victory Saturday, lead the SEC and are second in the nation in third-down conversion defense.
Something will have to give.
"Obviously, we struggled tremendously last year," wide receiver Zach Rogers said. "Making this improvement is big for our offense."
Shirts To Burn: With freshmen defensive linemen Jordan Williams and Allan Carson, and running back Devrin Young all receiving their first career snaps Saturday, the Vols have just seven true freshmen who have yet to see the field.
Quarterback Justin Worley, offensive linemen Mack Crowder, Kyler Kerbyson and Alan Posey, linebacker Christian Harris, cornerback Geraldo Orta and defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry are all still eligible to redshirt the 2011 season.
Last year, wide receiver Matt Milton was the only freshman to see his first action come after the fourth game of the season.
The Vols have played 15 true freshmen in 2011, two shy of last year's total of 17.
On An Island: Late in the third quarter Saturday, Jacques Smith moved away from his traditional spot on the defensive line and out into the flat, where he was lined up one on one with a wide receiver.
It wasn't by accident, said Smith, who never actually got a chance to flash his defensive back skills because the play was waved dead for a Buffalo false start.
"They didn't run the play so thank goodness I didn't have to do it," Smith said. "We run that a lot in practice. We just haven't showed it in games. We ware going to run it just to see what it's like in the game for me."
TV Time: Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Georgia will air on ESPN2, the network announced early Sunday.
The game will be UT's second on ESPN2 this season and the second played under the lights of Neyland Stadium.
The network also announced that Auburn-Arkansas will air on ESPN, while Vanderbilt's trip to Alabama will be shown on ESPNU. Both of those games will also kick off at 7 p.m.
Poll Watch: UT went another week without cracking the top 25 of either the USA Today/coaches or Associated Press polls, but it continued to receive a handful of votes.
The Vols received six voter points in the coaches' poll and one point from an AP voter.
UT did not place in the top 25 of the first Harris Interactive College Football Poll, which is one of a number of polls used to calculate Bowl Championship Series rankings. The Vols placed 34th in this week's Sagarin Ratings, another BCS-used poll.