Here’s a breakdown of the Tennessee Volunteers’ offensive struggles against the Georgia Bulldogs last Saturday:
- Vols’ First Possession. Tennessee’s first play from scrimmage was a 33-yard completion to Bret Smith. Chalk one up for a big play by the receiving corps. On the next play, however, Aaron Sears false starts, and the Vols are suddenly looking at 1st and 15. First and second downs net one yard, and a third down completion to Meachem goes for 11, generally good enough to get another set of downs, but not if you need 15 yards. Punt.
- Vols’ Second Possession. One of the rare, no-penalty drives, this possession began with another big play by a receiver, a completion Chris Hannon for 25 yards. The drive stalled out after a nine-yard completion to Meachem.
- Vols’ Third Possession. After Georgia scored a touchdown (with UT contributing ten yards on two penalties), the Vols returned the kickoff for only 12 yards and was penalized another 6. Starting on the 6 yard line, Tennessee did get one first down on a nice 15-yard run by Riggs, but on the next play, a communication error between Rick Clausen and Gerald Riggs resulted in a five-yard loss, so they were looking at 2nd and 15. On a no-gain second down, the Vols’ offense (Aaron Sears again) got a facemask penalty that Georgia declined. On 3rd down, they got 13, again generally enough for a new set of downs, but not if you need 15.
- Vols’ Fourth Possession. Georgia downs its punt at the Tennessee 2. The Vols play it safe and punt after gaining only one yard on three tries.
- Vols’ Fifth Possession. This possession was the high-water mark for the Vols’ offense, but ended with no points. Starting at the 26, Riggs ripped off runs of 8 yards, 9 yards, 1 yard, and 3 yards before Clausen made two consecutive completions of 23 yards and 11 yards (more big plays by receivers). Riggs then rushed for another 4 yards, and the Vols were threatening at Georgia’s 15. Notice no penalties or mental errors to this point. Alas, Clausen overthrew Bret Smith in the end zone and on the next play threw an interception.
- Vols’ Sixth Possession. Lucas Taylor caught Georgia’s punt at the 11 and ran to the 14, but Tennessee was penalized 6 yards and had to start on the 8 yard line. Still, they stayed ahead on downs, completing passes of 20 yards and eight yards, and drove down to Georgia’s 38 yard line. But then Riggs and the right tackle both give Georgia’s defensive end a straight path to Clausen’s blind side, and Clausen fumbles when he’s hit. A Volunteer offensive lineman falls on the ball, but the referee simply stares at the player cradling the ball on the ground until a Georgia player strips the ball from him, at which time the ref blows the whistle. Georgia converts the comedy of errors into three points.
- Vols’ Seventh Possession. Taylor returns the kickoff to the 26, a tie for the Vols’ best starting position of the game. There were no penalties or errors, but they go three and out.
- Vols’ Eighth Possession. Taylor returns the kickoff to the 26, but Tennessee was penalized 19 yards, so they started at the 7. Again, the receivers make a big play, this time a 28-yarder to Jayson Swain, who simply stole the ball from the defender. They make another first down after that before getting two 5-yard penalties. Yet they overcome those and make another first down with an 18-yard completion to Swain. They then get to 3rd and 1 only to receive a 15-yard penalty. They can’t convert on 3rd and 16, and they punt.
- Vols’ Ninth Possession. Jonathan Wade actually ran his interception on the preceding play in for a touchdown, but the officials ruled him down at the one-yard line. Hey! Good field position! Clausen snuck it in on the first play.
- Vols’ Tenth Possession. Thanks to a forced fumble by Jesse Mahelona recovered by Inky Johnson, the Vols got the ball back on their own 27 yard line. Two mistakes in a row for the Dawgs and the momentum seems to be turning. Clausen throws a 16-yard strike to freshman Josh Briscoe on 3rd and 7, but Briscoe is stripped, and Georgia recovers.
- Vols’ Eleventh Possession. The Vols’ defense held, but Georgia’s punter pinned Tennessee back on the one yard line. Tennessee could only muster eight yards before punting to Georgia, who ran it back for a touchdown.
- Vols’ Twelfth Possession. The game was essentially over at that point. The Vols made one first down and actually got ahead on downs, having a 2nd and five on the Tennessee 40 yard line when Clausen had to fall on a bad snap. That made it 3rd and ten, and they couldn’t convert.
- Vols’ Thirteenth Possession. The last Vol drive doesn’t really count, but they had no penalties or mistakes, and actually made a few big plays, including a 24-yard touchdown completion to Meachem as time ran out.
So the Volunteer offense had 12 meaningful possessions. It started almost half of those possession inside their own ten yard line, two of them inside their own five. Three times, the poor field position was directly attributable to Volunteer penalties.
On 4 of their drives, the Vols got behind on downs, either because of penalties or other mental errors.
Their good drives ended in turnovers.
Coach Fulmer’s assessment (subscription required) appears to be on target:
“We had 63 plays in the game Saturday, and 54 of them were outstanding, well-executed plays,” Fulmer said.
“We had 12 mistakes by different people that ended up costing you down and distance, field position or points.”
But still, if — IF — the Vols can cure their offensive woes, they still have a lot to play for, even after losing to two SEC East rivals.
They’re merely mostly dead.