Tennessee wants better first-down efficiency against Georgia

Tennessee wants better first-down efficiency against Georgia

September 28th, 2017 by Rob Harvey in Sports - College

From left, Tennessee coaches Robert Gillespie, Mike Canales and Butch Jones send signals to the offense during this past Saturday's home win against UMass. The Vols lost yardage on first down six times in the 17-13 victory, and avoiding such setbacks will be crucial this weekend against No. 7 Georgia, Jones said.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — In last week's 17-13 win over Massachusetts, the Tennessee offense struggled on first downs.

The Minutemen had 12 tackles for a loss against the Volunteers, and six of them came on first downs.

Tennessee faces a much stiffer defense Saturday when No. 7 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) visits, and coach Butch Jones emphasized the Vols cannot afford negative plays on first down.

"Everything is about first-down efficiency," Jones said. "What we have to do is work to stay ahead of the chains and eliminate negative-yardage football plays, and to me that's one of the critical elements and keys to this football game, is staying on schedule on first and second down."

The Vols (3-1, 0-1) will need to rely on a veteran offensive line to provide holes for running back John Kelly to run through and time for quarterback Quinten Dormady to throw on first downs if they want to have success against the Bulldogs' physical defense.

Jones considers a 7-yard pass or a 4-yard run to be an "efficient" first-down play. Tennessee's target is to have 65 percent of its first-down plays be efficient.

"That kind of puts us in a manageable second down or third down," Dormady said Tuesday. "Being behind the chains obviously hurts, because that puts us in second-and-long and third-and-long, which puts us in a predictable situation."

Three Vols will sit

Preseason All-American kick returner Evan Berry will miss a fourth straight game, and senior tight end Jakob Johnson and wide receiver Latrell Williams have also been ruled out of Saturday's game.

Berry has missed time since an undisclosed injury took him out of the season opener against Georgia Tech. Williams played sparingly against Georgia Tech but has not played since. Johnson was injured late against UMass.

Jones said "everyone else" should be available to play. That includes defensive tackle Shy Tuttle and center Jashon Robertson, who missed the UMass game.

"They were involved in practice, were able to get some reps and also some mental reps," Jones said. " We fully anticipate — hopefully no unforeseen changes there —that they'll be ready to go on Saturday."

Jones also said linebacker Austin Smith was back at practice on Tuesday and could play a role Saturday.

Standout recognized

Senior safety Todd Kelly Jr., who is likely out for the season with a knee injury, has been named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy.

The award honors college football's top scholar-athlete in the nation. The pool of 181 semifinalists, which were announced Wednesday, will be cut to 12 to 14 finalists on Nov. 1.

"These 181 impressive candidates truly represent the scholar-athlete ideal," National Football Foundation chairman Archie Manning said in a news release. "It is important for us to showcase their success on the football field, in the classroom and in the community. This year's semifinalists further illustrate the power of our great sport in developing the next generation of influential leaders."

Vols who have won the award are quarterback Peyton Manning (1997) — Archie's son — and offensive lineman Michael Munoz (2004).

Kelly is also on the watch list for the 2017 Lott IMPACT Trophy and a nominee for the Wuerffel Trophy as well as a nominee for the AFCA Good Works Team.

Contact Rob Harvey at sports@timesfreepress.com.