Improved execution credited for success on third down

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.

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 18

seadaddy writes:

Remember trolls ...38---10
Enough said. :)

volcycle writes:

in response to seadaddy:

Remember trolls ...38---10
Enough said. :)

Is this the score of the UT - UGA game for this week? I hope so...Vols win!!! I like it.

Brillovol writes:

I was just thinking yesterday how far we've come on our 3rd down conversions. Nice to see the numbers.

Also, don't feed the trolls...i.e. don't respond.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

Thank goodness for the improvement on this stat, but let's temper that enthusiasm with a consideration of the opposition. CDD said as much himself. In retrospect, Cinci, in spite of their porous defense was, and is, a pretty solid team--just not on an SEC elite level. Just wonder what percentage of those conversions came on passes as opposed to runs. After watching Bama, couldn't help but notice how they brutalize people with the running game, all the while chewing up the clock and piling up the points--not eyepopping totals, just decisive. Even the UT/UF series is usually decided not by most passing yardage, but rushing yardage. At any rate, I'm just happy to know that nowadays there is at least a 50/50 chance of converting those third downs--just hope the pattern continues.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Brillovol:

I was just thinking yesterday how far we've come on our 3rd down conversions. Nice to see the numbers.

Also, don't feed the trolls...i.e. don't respond.

Bama sent one in below the troll boat waterline. Here's hoping LSU finishes the job this week.

They'll be back though. It's their job.

GiveHim6TDTennessee writes:

It's really impressive to see how we have come along statistically speaking. Hopefully it will show up in the win column as well.

bnakk#240693 writes:

in response to seadaddy:

Remember trolls ...38---10
Enough said. :)

The best part is it looked even worse than 38-10!

writer#358485 writes:

Loved the military metaphor and just couldn't resist expanding on it;-) Alabama not only got one in below the waterline, they battered the superstructure to junk. It does seem like most of the trolls must have been from Florida and they seem to have gone down with their ship. Hope it stays that way! Next time, they shouldn't bring a light cruiser to a fight with a battleship.

Now, if we can just outgun Georgia next week, we'll have stepped up from destroyer to cruiser class ourselves! Go Vols!

Brillovol writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Bama sent one in below the troll boat waterline. Here's hoping LSU finishes the job this week.

They'll be back though. It's their job.

Given their nature, they'll come back as bammers or bayou bengals.

Ironcity writes:

Two words describe the success of our 3rd down conversion. Bray/Simms. Bray is accurate and understands what the defense is giving him in relation to the yardage needed.Simms never had a clue where to throw it and usually was baited into throwing a 2 yard pass when we needed 10.

Bigger_Al writes:

Not quite fair to Simms, there, Ironcity. The o-line is much improved this year (poor to adequate), and Gerald Jones got hurt in the first game and missed the next four. But Bray can really sling that ball.

spencer1989#206886 writes:

During the game Saturday I was thinking back to last year in how we couldn't buy a third down conversion. I'm trying to remember which game it was last year....But in that game it seems like we had not made a single conversion in 36 or 39 attempts. Looking at where we are this year, it is a tremendous change for the better. We are definitely getting better and on the right track.

Knocknox writes:

in response to Ironcity:

Two words describe the success of our 3rd down conversion. Bray/Simms. Bray is accurate and understands what the defense is giving him in relation to the yardage needed.Simms never had a clue where to throw it and usually was baited into throwing a 2 yard pass when we needed 10.

Couldn't agree more. Simms was looking for Denarious Moore to get wide open by running deep past his man. He couldn't locate much else and would hold the ball all day waiting for that one big break. Bray's vision is 10,000 times better.

zman44 writes:

I'm not a Gator fan...or a Bama fan...but I am curious as to the reasoning behind this board's relishing the Florida loss to Bama. If I was a UT fan I would be petrified of the Bama game. The Florida O-Line is superior to the UT O-Line. Bama got to Brantley repeatedly, and finally twisted him into a pretzel.

Quick point: If Bama gets to Bray, they have the ability to end his season. If that were to happen, UT is on the fast track to a 4 or 5 win season.

Volunatic writes:

Actually, the Vols are 30th in the Sagarin ratings, but as the disclaimer on the site says, there haven't been enough "connections" (too early in the season) for the poll to have much relevance yet.
http://www.usatoday.com/sports/sagari...

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Not quite fair to Simms, there, Ironcity. The o-line is much improved this year (poor to adequate), and Gerald Jones got hurt in the first game and missed the next four. But Bray can really sling that ball.

I'm with you on this one. So far, Bray hasn't had to contend with the powerful defenses that Simms saw week after week during his starts. Those also just happened to be the first starts for our green-as-grass O-line last year. I agree that Bray is a better passer than Simms, but Simms would probably look a lot better than he did last year since he too would be playing behind a better line, with good receivers, and against weaker defenses.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to zman44:

I'm not a Gator fan...or a Bama fan...but I am curious as to the reasoning behind this board's relishing the Florida loss to Bama. If I was a UT fan I would be petrified of the Bama game. The Florida O-Line is superior to the UT O-Line. Bama got to Brantley repeatedly, and finally twisted him into a pretzel.

Quick point: If Bama gets to Bray, they have the ability to end his season. If that were to happen, UT is on the fast track to a 4 or 5 win season.

You are right. Some of our fans have just gotten so tired of Gator trolls on here that they were glad to see UF taken down a peg. Bama looked awesome, all right. I sorta concur with the poster who said the Vols' O-line may well be better at pass-blocking than UF's. All of UF's linemen were recruited for, and played in, Meyer's spread offense, which has an entirely different philosophy of line blocking than is entailed in Weis' pro-style offense. Still, Bama looks like they can rush the passer against anybody. It will take the Vols' best imaginable offensive performance to make any headway at all against them. Right now, they are far and away the best team I at least have seen this year.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to CrippledCoon:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sorry not to credit you with the observation about the differences between UF's and UT's O-lines. I skimmed the rest of the comments before responding to zman44 and remembered someone had mentioned that, but when I got on the response page I forgot just who had said what. As you also imply, the rest of UT's receivers will have to be on their games the rest of the year to give Bray some reliable targets against the great defenses coming up.

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