KNOXVILLE -- It's every offense's dream to score touchdowns on every possession.
The closer Tennessee's offense has moved toward doing that, the scarier it's been for the Volunteers, at least lately. UT has come up empty on just six drives inside an opponent's 20-yard line this season, but there's been an empty red-zone possession in each of the last four games. Three of those drives have ended on interceptions.
"I think you try to do minimal stuff, [but] we're probably trying to do too much down there," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said after the Vols wrapped up practice inside Neyland Stadium on Wednesday morning. "When we get down there, we don't execute anything very well. I think red area, we're OK until we get down there, and it's just been a nightmare for us."
Holding a touchdown lead against Vanderbilt last week, quarterback Tyler Bray threw an pass in the end zone intended for tight end Mychal Rivera that linebacker Archibald Barnes returned for a Commodores touchdown.
Four weeks ago against South Carolina, Justin Worley's throw in the end zone on an out route intended for Da'Rick Rogers was intercepted. The freshman was late on a throw over the middle two weeks later at Arkansas when a touchdown would have trimmed UT's deficit to 21-14 before halftime.
Other than a missed field goal at Florida, the three interceptions and garbage-time drives that ended on fourth down in wins against Montana and Middle Tennessee State, UT has been perfect in the red zone. It's those other recent opportunities that could have changed those games.
With the same number of defenders condensed into a smaller area to cover, the execution, whether it's the crispness of the route or the accuracy and timing of the throw, must be closer to perfection.
"There's 11 guys that can cover more space in a tighter area," Bray said. "I just threw a bad ball. If I would have thrown it where I wanted to, it'd had been a touchdown. Inch to the right it's a pick-six, an inch to the left it's a touchdown."
The recent red-zone struggles aren't solely on the quarterback and receivers, though. After UT ran two running plays on its opening scoring drive, the Vols netted just one yard on first-and-goal plays on the other trips inside Vanderbilt's 10.
UT has only reached the red zone 13 times in the last six games after making it there 24 times in the first five games of the season. Part of that was Bray's absence after he broke his thumb against Georgia on Oct. 8 and missed five games. Against LSU and Alabama's stout defenses, UT only drove to the 20 once.
While the frequency of the red-zone visits have increased, the Vols must convert the opportunities when they arise, which starts with precise execution.
"It's everything," Chaney said. "Details of assignments show up all the time when you get inside the 10-yard line. As you can see, we've struggled so much down there, and it's all [because] we're victim of details of assignments more than anything else."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...