ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
some text
Just after the handoff from Justin Worley, left, Tennessee's Martin Lane (15) turns upfield while Florida's Jonathan Bullard (90) slows his pace.

KNOXVILLE - This time a week ago, Tennessee was coming off a 32-point, 401-yard game in an SEC road game against a top-15 foe.

Now the Volunteers are working with what offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian termed a "[ticked] off mentality" this week in preparation for Saturday's visit from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

That's how quickly missed red-zone chances, three turnovers, six sacks and a handful of penalties can change things.

"I think everybody across the board," Bajakian said following Wednesday's practice, "has a sour taste in their mouth."

Tennessee's sputtering offense was the biggest culprit in last week's 10-9 loss at Florida, as the Vols managed a paltry 233 yards against a Florida defense that allowed 645 yards to Alabama and 450 to Kentucky just a week after having a big afternoon at Georgia.

The subpar performance leaves Tennessee 119th nationally out of 128 FBS teams in yards per play (4.5).

Better red-zone productivity -- Tennessee settled for three field goales and managed minus-11 yards with a dropped third-down pass, a sack and an interception on eight plays inside the Gators' 20-yard line -- likely would've resulted in a win.

Bajakian called for seven passes on those eight plays, and the lone running play was stopped for no gain.

"Every play that didn't work I wouldn't have called, and any play that did work I would have called," he said. "We had a bead on a couple of tendencies that we felt good about. We took our shots to the end zone and it didn't work out."

Dating back to the Oklahoma game, the Vols have scored just two touchdowns, settled for four field goals and committed two costly turnovers on their last eight trips to the red zone. In that stretch, Tennessee ran the ball just six times compared to 15 passing plays.

"Just got to work on execution more than anything," Bajakian said.

"It starts with me. Obviously I've got to do a better job preparing our guys during the week for those different types of situations and putting them in a position to make those plays."

Though Bajakian's playcalling has come into the crosshairs -- head coach Butch Jones joked on his radio show Wednesday night, "I know Mike Bajakian's been a topic of conversation" -- the issues for Tennessee's offense go beyond him.

It starts with the offensive line, which has allowed 18 sacks and struggled to generate room in the ground game. Florida doubled it season total with six sacks on Saturday and held Tennessee to 29 rushing yards.

"It's not acceptable what happened," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "I expect and we expect them to respond. That's what we did yesterday in practice, and today we did some things in that same manner and same mentality. It's a step in the right direction."

Tennessee is 112th in the country in rushing offense. That average is skewed by the lost yardage on sacks, and though the Vols' tailbacks are averaging right at 4 yards per carry this season, Tennessee has just 14 runs of 10 yards or more this season, well off the pace to match last season's 69.

"Everything's pointing at them and me, and it's what it is," Mahoney said. "It's the responsibility you have, and that's what's great about playing here and coaching here and being here. We've got to step up, we've got to play better, we've got to do better and we will. They understand that."

Turnovers have played a big role in Tennessee's three consecutive losses, as Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida turned those mistakes into 28 points.

Quarterback Justin Worley, who said defenses are playing more man coverage and giving the Vols some looks they've not showed on film, took responsibility for Tennessee's three giveaways against the Gators.

The senior threw off his back foot for a costly red-zone interception early in the second half, missed a corner blitz that led to a sack-fumble and Florida's 30-yard touchdown drive and tossed the game-sealing interception into double coverage.

"I think I've forced the ball a little more, made a couple of stupid throws that I wish I could take back," Worley admitted on Tuesday, "but yeah, the turnovers have hurt us the last couple of games.

"It hurts us. You can't win when you turn the ball over. I myself have to do a better job personally, and I take full responsibility for those plays."

Bajakian seemed more than willing to shoulder the blame, too.

"He's a leader, and he's going to take responsibility, just like I take responsibility for the performance of this offense," he said. "He's going to step up and, as a leader of the offense on the field, he's always going to say things fall on his shoulders.

"Obviously there's so much that goes into timing and spacing and rhythm of the pass game, but we need to execute in every facet."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT