Vols have much to correct

By Travis Brown
STAR STAFF
tbrown@starhq.com

   After the Vols' performance Saturday against the Florida Gators, many fans immediately turned into Sunday morning quarterbacks, and began critiquing the mistakes that were made.
   Truth be told, it would take this entire page to fully document the misgivings that were displayed at Neyland Stadium. So in an effort to keep it brief, let's examine the philosophy that has managed to beat Tennessee in those big-game losses they are famous for.
   Let's talk about conservatism, and I'm not referring to the Republican agenda in November. I'm talking about the Vols apparent lack of aggression.
   Offensively, the Volunteers pride themselves on running the football. They had a great deal of difficulty running the ball due to their inability to stretch the field on Saturday.
   Kelly Washington had a dismal game compared to what he was capable of, but despite his poor game, Tennessee has to let him go deep. The receiving corps at UT can run vertically, and if they continue playing small ball, the running game will suffer as a consequence.
   Quarterback Casey Clausen, fumbles aside, had a decent game. He threw for over 250 yards, with no interceptions. Simply put, when a quarterback throws for those kind of numbers they should be winning football games.
   The Volunteers only took one shot downfield. That pass was dropped and that strategy was immediately abandoned. Granted the rain played a factor, but it didn't stop Florida.
   Oh yeah... What about Jason Witten? I would throw the ball to him until a defensive unit proved they could stop him. So far when they throw him the ball it has been successful, but he only got four touches this week.
   When a defense begins to key on him then stop throwing him the ball, but Witten and Washington combined... somebody has to be open.
   Bottom line offensively: Until the Vols decide to take some shots deep and keep the defensive pass umbrella moving backward, support for the run will be strong. Running the ball will be difficult against solid defenses if the ball never goes more than 15 yards down the field; and throw it to Witten, too.
   Defensively the Vols have to TACKLE. The defensive style they play has been successful pressuring the quarterback. They have succeeded for the most part in keeping people in front of the defensive secondary.
   The corners have been beat a few times but not enough to be selling out downfield.
   The type of defensive scheme that UT runs, allows short passing to be successful from time to time. It goes without saying that tackling is important.
   However, with this philosophy in place, tackling is at a premium because stopping teams on third down, requires making that tackle. Any yards after contact is the difference between fourth-and-1 or a new set of downs.
   Tennessee has traditionally played soft on defense. Case in point, UT vs. Georgia last season. Playing soft beat the Vols then, and it can beat the Vols now.
   This week's game was not the defense's fault though. They played OK, but not to the level they are capable of.
   Bottom line defensively: Use that speed at linebacker to chase quarterbacks, start attacking more often and start tackling consistently. Injuries have hurt UT on the defensive side of the ball, but keep plugging and it will come together.
   Finally the Vols must eliminate the stupid mistakes... a la penalties. Delay of game, and illegal participation fouls are ridiculous and cannot be tolerated.
   I'm not blaming anyone for the loss on Saturday. The Vols, in my opinion, still have the most physical talent in the nation. However, if they continue making silly mental errors, they will get beaten again.
   Meanwhile the concerned Vol fan should stay faithful, because this is a good football team that just had a really bad game.
   Let's hope they bounce back, because if they don't improve, Georgia and Miami will destroy them.