KNOXVILLE - The goal is a very basic one for Tennessee's offense.
The Volunteers want to score points every time they touch the ball.
It's an impossible standard to reach, but the Vols aim for it anyway.
"Our job is to go score points," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Wednesday morning after Tennessee's practice, "and when we don't, you get frustrated."
The Vols probably get frustrated, too, when they score 31 or more points in three Southeastern Conference road games and win none of them. Tennessee is third in the SEC in scoring and fourth in yards, and it's not difficult to envision more than half the starting lineup playing at the next level. Yet when the other side of the ball is the worst in the SEC and surrendering 42 points and more than 522 yard per game to SEC teams, the Vols' offense probably feels like it has to score each and every time it takes the field.
Not so, the Vols say.
"Every game, every time the offense gets an opportunity to get out there, we want to score," tight end Mychal Rivera said. "We want to continue to keep the drive alive, no matter what's going on with the defense out there. That is frustrating to score that many points and still not get the win, but we still continue to push ourselves.
"Last game, we saw it [as] hey, if we would have had one more touchdown, we would have won. We didn't look at it the other way where they gave up that many amount of points and stuff like that. We've just got to continue to score points."
Chaney said he didn't sense any extra self-generated pressure from his side in trying to keep up with opponents scoring on Tennessee's defense. In road losses to Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina, the Vols gained 1,311 yards, scored and 110 points and overcame two-possession deficits. For the season Tennessee is averaging 456 yards and 34.5 points per game.
"It's not necessarily a necessity, but we feel that we have enough talent that we can score on any drive," receiver Zach Rogers said. "When we stall out, we can't get down on ourselves because we know that we can come back and score on the next drive [or] one big play. We've taken some shots down the field this year, and they've paid off.
"We just have to realize the firepower and not get down on ourselves [and] continue develop and be confident in what we have."
Tennessee's offense wasn't without blame in creating those early-game deficit in those three games. Each game began with a three-and-out series, and Tennessee ran just 10 plays the rest of the first half after an opening-series touchdown drive and trailed 27-14 at halftime against Mississippi State. For every drive where the Vols make generating yards and scoring points look really easy, there's another where they miss an open receiver, stall after a false-start penalty or fail to convert a short-yardage third-down scenario with a low-percentage deep pass.
"It's all about execution and discipline and we're getting better at that, but we're not ready to go out there and score on every possession yet," Chaney said. "We sure would like to be able to do that. Unfortunately that's just not the way it's going, and we've got to continue to strive for that.
"If our guys will do what they're told to do and know to do right, we usually have a measured amount of success because we do have enough talent to be able to move the ball."
Added Rogers: "We've just got to be more consistent. We have a lot of talent and we know that, but we do shoot ourselves in the foot a lot, maybe one guy messing up. It takes a whole collective unit to be good, and when everybody's clicking, this offense is very good."
Getting back in games hasn't been a challenge for Tennessee's offense, but clearing that final hurdle with a winning or tying drive has been an elusive prize.
"It's a team sport any way you look at it, and we've had plenty of opportunities on offense," said third-year head coach Derek Dooley. "If we're going to score 35, let's go score 42, let's score 49. You do what you've got to do to win the game."
It's what a talented and productive has been unable to do in close games in the second half of four of those SEC losses. Against Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina, Tennessee has had possession 16 times with the game either tied or within seven points. Since scoring on their opening second-half possession against the Gators, the Vols have failed to score in such situations.
Four of those 15 drives were three-and-outs, four more concluded in interceptions, three others were stopped with fumbles and the other four ended with punts after at least one first down.
"You concentrate on execution," Chaney said. "It doesn't matter if it's the first play or the last play, you've got to go out and execute the play that's called and do the best you can. You've got to try to be detailed when you're tired at the end of a ball game.
"That's all you can ever do. I think every kid's makeup differently: some need to slow down and some need to speed up. It's all about concentrating on the details of your assignment and executing the play."
There's been enough of that execution to turn the defensive woes into shootouts, but it's not been enough to get wins.
"We're going out there to score points," Rivera said, "and we've just got to generate as many points as we can."