published Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

UT Vols looking for more 'splash' plays

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones got solid play from several freshmen in the Vols’ win over Austin Peay on Saturday.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones got solid play from several freshmen in the Vols’ win over Austin Peay on Saturday.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Tennessee running back Rajion Neal (20) fakes carrying the ball while quarterback Justin Worley (14) keeps it during Saturday's season-opening 45-0 win over Austin Peay. Neal's early 47-yard touchdown run was the longest play in the rout.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- In one half of football, Tennessee's starting offense rolled up 42 points and averaged nearly 8 yards on each snap.

The Volunteers needed just two big plays for that production.

They know they'll need more of what first-year coach Butch Jones calls "big splash plays" as the season progresses and the level of competition increases.

"We didn't have many opportunities to take shots like that," quarterback Justin Worley said during the Vols' weekly news conferences Monday. "In the flow of the game there's opportunities to take shots like that in different situations that we'll be faced with that'll call for those. All it is is preparation during the week for those types of plays and execution.

"There wasn't really the need or the opportunity to have those type of plays, and hopefully this week we can work on them and have an opportunity come Saturday."

In the 45-0 win against Austin Peay, Tennessee scored on a 47-yard run by tailback Rajion Neal on the Vols' first series and had a 23-yard hookup between Worley and freshman receiver Marquez North that set up Marlin Lane's 4-yard touchdown run.

Last season's prolific offense had 66 plays of 20 or more yards in 12 games for an average of 5.5. Cincinnati's offense under Jones averaged 6.2 such plays, though the Bearcats averaged nearly 36 fewer yards of offense per game than the Vols.

With the ground game with Neal and Lane and the Vols' veteran offensive line pushing around the smaller Governors' front, Tennessee attempted only four deep passes, according to Jones.

"I felt like we stayed pretty simple," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said, "so we just wanted to run the ball and establish the line of scrimmage."

The most notable missed opportunity came when Worley slightly underthrew North on what would have been about a 45-yard gain had the freshman not let the ball slip through his hands.

"There was a couple of deep balls that we would like to have back," he said. "We have to be able to complete those. The overall big-play makeup of our football team, we have to have big splash football plays. In the world of college football, you can't play perfect. When the play is blocked for 4 yards, we can't get 4 yards. We need to get 6. We need to get 7 yards.

"We have to have the ability to throw a three-step slant or a 5-yard hitch and turn a 5-yard gain into a 30-yard gain. Our running backs have to do a good job of making the second- and third-level defenders miss. You look at successful offenses, they have the ability to score on any area of the field, and that's an area that we have to grow and continue to get better."

Tennessee's coaches stress catching the ball, tucking it and turning upfield to the receivers on nearly every repetition of every drill or play in practice, but the Vols' wideouts didn't manage many yards after catches in the opener.

Worley, who completed all but two of his 13 throws, took some of the blame for that.

"There were a few throws that I missed," he said. "I missed targets that could have ended up in big plays. I missed Marquez twice, behind both times, and I think that's still just trying to get a feel for his route-running.

"In practice, you may get the same route that you throw in a game, but depending on how tired these guys are in practice, it might not be as fast as you're going to get in the game. Hopefully we have an opportunity to work on these full-speed routes in a game-type of situation."

In the past couple of seasons, receiver Justin Hunter had the ability to take the top off the opposing defense, and Cordarrelle Patterson was a threat to score from anywhere on any touch of the ball last season.

None of the playmakers on this Tennessee jump out as having that level of home-run ability, but Jones sees potential.

"We have some individuals that are capable of making big splash football plays," he said. "There were a couple of times where we have the perfect play and we have an M.A. [missed assignment]. That's supposed to be a deep football.

"It's a young receiver making a young individual's mistake, but we can't have those mistakes."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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