published Friday, September 25th, 2009

Red-zone honing

Vols want to turn 3-pointers into touchdowns


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- College football coaches pore over statistics after most games, and they obsess over them after close losses.

Most of the most important statistics boil down to one factor: As Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin puts it, "Did we finish?"

Did your defense get off the field on third down? Did your team outscore its opponent in the fourth quarter? Did you turn red-zone drives into touchdowns?

Kiffin's Volunteers did two of those three things the past two weeks, but they lost to UCLA and Florida in large part because they couldn't accomplish the third task. They couldn't fully capitalize inside the opponent's 20-yard line, and that's one of the biggest reasons they're 1-2 heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Ohio University.

UT scored six times in seven red-zone chances against the Bruins and Gators, but just two of those possessions, and just one of the last six, crossed the goal line.

"It's a big concern," Kiffin said.

The Vols' senior quarterback doesn't necessarily see it that way.

"I mean, obviously, we'd rather score touchdowns than field goals, but our job as an offense it to move the ball and score," Jonathan Crompton said moments after the loss at Florida. "I wouldn't say we're frustrated at all. We have a good kicker, and we trust him.

"Any drive where you put points on the board is a good drive."

But touchdowns are better drives, and Kiffin said his team is costing itself those better results.

"We've pointed it out, we've showed them where the plays are to be made, and it's the little things," Kiffin said. "Our timing is a little bit off. They see where the difference is, and we just have to capitalize on it."

The coach blamed himself for conservative playcalling near the end of the UCLA game, but he didn't point inward after settling for field goals at Florida.

"I think in the UCLA game, I looked back and would have liked to call some different things," Kiffin said. "Once again, we have to execute whatever is called, but I think as you look at the Florida game and break it down, I was pleased with what was called.

"We can't make stuff up. No matter where we play, who we play, we have to run things the same way that we practice them and not change anything."

It's usually small things. Gerald Jones caught what could've been a touchdown pass out of bounds. Fellow wide receiver Quintin Hancock didn't motion out widely enough. Freshman tailback Bryce Brown bounced a run outside instead of cutting back toward the middle.

Crompton failed to see Jones open away from the sideline several seconds before the receiver drifted out of bounds, though Kiffin shied away from mentioning that error.

"You have to take what the defense gives you a lot of the time," Crompton said. "And it's always tougher in the red zone, because it's more crowded in there.

"Defenses do different stuff when you're down there, too -- you know, different blitzes and stuff like that -- and you have to be careful with the ball. You never want to come away without any points. You'd rather get three points than get none."

Hancock's jaw injury doesn't seem to help the situation, as the 6-foot-3 senior is the closest thing UT has to a big-bodied wide receiver who excels in the red zone. Converted tight end Brandon Warren seems to have the skills to produce in that area, but he's been inconsistent as a junior wideout.

The Vols have good size at tight end and fullback. Tight ends Luke Stocker and Jeff Cottam are 6-6 and 6-8, and fullbacks Kevin Cooper and Austin Johnson showed sterling hands throughout preseason camp.

"I feel like, in this offense, the coaches can set up any type of plays for anybody," Cooper said. "I wouldn't be surprised if fullbacks and tight ends get more passes thrown to them, as far as opening it up for the wide receivers and stuff."

Confidence, coaching and talent aren't problems, Cooper maintained.

"We feel like we can play with anybody in the country," he said. "It's not about talent. It's about just getting back to the basics and knowing our detailed assignments and everything. We don't lack confidence at all. It's just that we have to make plays every time we have the opportunity.

"The coaches do a great job coaching us, but us players, we've just got to make plays on the field."

Ohio has scared major-conference opponents the past few seasons under former Nebraska coach Frank Solich, but the Bobcats don't share similar offensive abilities to the Vols' next two opponents -- Auburn and Georgia.

"We're going to have to score more points and help out our defense more to win games. That's pretty obvious," Jones said. "We have to execute better and get on the same page, but I know we will.

"It's about us. It's not about these other teams. We need to handle our business, and if we do that, we'll be good."

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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