KNOXVILLE -- Everything about the play was perfect until the end.
In Tennessee's eventual loss to South Carolina last Saturday, Volunteers offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had the perfect play called for a third-and-1 situation in four-down territory at the Gamecocks' 43-yard line. After faking a handoff, first-time starting quarterback Justin Worley threw his best pass of the night, hitting Da'Rick Rogers, who had beaten Carolina corner Marty Markett in single coverage, in stride near the end zone.
The star sophomore let it go right through his hands.
"It's a play I have to make," Rogers said Tuesday.
It wasn't Rogers' first dropped ball of the season, but it was easily the most costly. It would have given UT a 10-7 second-quarter lead and likely given a nervous Worley a shot of confidence.
"Oh, yeah, some drops are more painful than others," receivers coach Charlie Baggett said after Wednesday morning's practice. "The one that [Rogers] had was a game-turner. We'd have taken the lead, and you never know what would have happened."
Quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter, the injured two thirds of the Vols' big-play passing attack, were awaiting Rogers on the sideline after the play.
"Oh, yeah, Tyler came right at me," Rogers said. "'Hey, you owe [Worley] one.' I said, 'Hey, I owe him a bunch. I'll make sure I get him this week.'"
Said Hunter: "I was like, 'Man, come on.'"
Rogers' maturity level has improved since his freshman season, and he has the type of easygoing character that helped him move on from his missed opportunity. He said he watched NFL games Sunday while the Vols enjoyed a day off and saw professional players drop passes.
"I don't want to be one of those guys," Rogers said. "It hurts. You just really have to put it behind you. If you sit there and dwell on it, that one will bite you all night if not all year."
As an 11-year assistant in the NFL, Baggett has seen plenty of his receivers drop passes at crucial times, so the 58-year-old knows how to handle the situation.
"He was all right," Baggett said. "I've also learned over the years that you can't beat them down for plays like that, because it stays on their mind. That's all they think about. You've got to make them forget it and move on and make another play when you get the next opportunity.
"He went and apologized to Worley about it, but he was good."
For UT's receivers to fix the offense and improve a passing game that coach Derek Dooley said earlier this week has taken steps backward, apologizing to Worley isn't enough. The offensive line and running backs also could help the freshman with developing a consistent ground game, which mustered only 35 yards last week.
"The young kid needed everybody to step up," Chaney said, "and I don't know that we did that as a unit offensively."
Freshman DeAnthony Arnett and junior Zach Rogers made their first catches in three weeks against South Carolina. Dooley said the receivers' routes have been fine, but the group has struggled getting open when under press coverage.
"I think any time you've got a change, you've got to step it up and pick your game up," Baggett said. "I talk to these guys about it all the time, but it takes time when you've got a new quarterback with different timing for the receivers. That's why we practice, and the more we do it the better we'll get."
Rogers knows he has to take advantage of opportunities when he has them.
"Coach Dooley tells us that we are a key part of Worley's success and his confidence," he said. "We really have to keep our heads together. We have to work to improve."