Can UT Vols' offense replicate second half against Georgia?

Can UT Vols' offense replicate second half against Georgia?

October 12th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Dallas, Posey leave Vols program

Receiver Vincent Dallas and offensive lineman Alan Posey have left Tennessee's football team this week and will look to continue their careers at other programs. Neither player practiced Wednesday.

A 5-foot-11, 187-pound junior, Dallas has been in the rotation at wideout the past couple of seasons and took over as the Volunteers' kickoff returner when Devrin Young broke his hand a few weeks ago. He caught 14 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown, a 61-yarder against South Carolina last season. Dallas had two receptions this season and averaged 22 yards on 13 kick returns.

The 6-5, 307-pound Posey, from former coach Derek Dooley's alma mater of Clarke Central High School in Athens, Ga., appeared in three games the past two seasons after redshirting in 2011.

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee is still last in the Southeastern Conference in total offense, but the Volunteers certainly did not look like that in the second half against Georgia a week ago.

The trick now is replicating that level of execution and performance.

If offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian could bottle up the way his group played and simply open it for Tennessee's final six games after this week's open date, he probably would.

Now, at least, the Vols know how it feels to execute well and make some key plays in big spots of a tight SEC game.

"Make no mistake about it: We were ultimately disappointed we didn't win the football game and realized there's a lot of things we could have done, simple things like blocking leverage on the perimeter and assignments," Bajakian said this week.

"But I think one of the biggest differences in our ability to execute, especially in the second half, was very simply guys stepping up in critical situations, in those third- and fourth-down situations, making the plays when they were needed."

In the second half against the Bulldogs, Tennessee rolled up 252 yards and drove 75, 78 and 80 yards for three touchdowns against Georgia's young defense, which is 10th in the SEC and 67th nationally in total defense.

However, the Vols managed just 127 first-half yards and punted on five of their first six possessions despite registering eight first downs. A false-start penalty knocked them out of a second-and-5 situation in Georgia territory, and a sack ended another series. Tennessee punted after three plays to end the first half and again to start the second half.

The margin of error remains small for this offense, but it did tap into some of its potential after halftime.

"The biggest part that everybody sees is the execution, and really that's what it was," quarterback Justin Worley said. "We had a lot of guys step up on third down that kept some big drives going for us. I think we had numerous passing conversions on third down that were huge and maybe something we hadn't had going for us in the past few games."

Since 316- and 220-yard performances at Oregon and Florida, respectively -- two of the nation's top 20 defenses statistically -- Tennessee averaged 443 yards against South Alabama and Georgia.

The Vols ran for 278 and 189 yards in those two games and are 32nd in the country at 211 rushing yards per game, though that's only seventh in the SEC. Tailback Rajion Neal had perhaps the two best games of his career the past two weeks, following up a career-high 169-yard game against South Alabama with a 149-yard performance against Georgia.

The common thread in those two games: Neal broke a 53-yard run against the Jaguars and took a fourth-and-1 pitch 43 yards last week, and the senior received a heavy-volume workload (53 carries) with Marlin Lane out with an injury.

Running backs coach Robert Gillespie said Neal's 33 touches against Georgia is "way too many" and credited Tennessee's veteran offensive line for its part in Neal's production.

"Our offensive line's really good," he said. "Those guys are getting better, and the better they get, the better we get behind them. There's not a magic pill or a light switch that's kind of ticked.

"We looked back at those early runs in the year, and those linemen were still doing the same things. It's were we getting to those holes, and I think now we're just with every rep getting better, with every rep saying, 'OK, there it is.' There's some small things that we've done, but I think the offensive line's just constantly getting better."

In its next two games, Tennessee will face the two best defenses it'll play the rest of the season in South Carolina (41st nationally and sixth in the SEC in total defense) and Alabama (12th and second), though the Crimson Tide have allowed just 19 points in the four games they didn't play Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel.

Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are in the bottom half of the SEC in yards allowed, but those rankings mean little if the Vols can't execute the way they did against Georgia, and much of that starts with Worley.

"While Justin's a lot of the focus, that catch by Marquez [North] in the end zone was an unbelievable catch. Alton Howard had a couple of great catches," Bajakian said.

"Justin's play definitely improved -- make no mistake about it -- but as one player's play improves, so does everyone else's. It works both ways. As guys on the perimeter are making those difficult catches, as the offensive line is protecting for maybe a hair of a second longer, it results in the quarterback being able to find those open receivers and make those connections."

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