October 26, 2008

Five reasons why

A week after feeling better about their play in all facets, Saturday night Tennessee's players and coaches left Neyland Stadium having taken a couple of steps backwards, especially on offense following a 29-9 loss to Alabama. So what went wrong? Plenty. But here are my five biggest reasons that Alabama has its first two-game winning streak ever against Phillip Fulmer.

1. Red zone woes - Tennessee has been a poor red zone team all year. Early in the season it was major mistakes like turnovers. Saturday night, it was simply negative plays. In the first half, when Alabama and Tennessee's defense gave the Vols a chance, the offense responded with six snaps inside the 20-yard line. Three of those snaps were penalties (two negating first downs), one was a sack, one was an incomplete pass and the only positive play was a 3-yard run.

In a game where your goal is to get it into the second half and hope for a couple of breaks, Tennessee had a couple of early chances for touchdowns and finished in the red zone with a made field goal and a missed field goal. You don't upset the second ranked team in the country playing that way inside the red zone.

2. Kicking game - Tennessee gets a fumble recovery on a punt, and partially blocks a punt in the first half and Tennessee still ends up losing the kicking game? Alabama's second field goal came off a 22-yard Britton Colquitt shank. Daniel Lincoln missed two field goals, including a momentum changing 43-yard kick to end the first half. Tennessee gave up a 22-yard return to Javier Arenas that set up Alabama at the Tennessee 33-yard line. Tennessee failed to capitalize on opportunities created in the kicking game and they gave Alabama a couple of key breaks in the kicking game as well.

3. Julio Jones - The freshman wide receiver schooled Tennessee all night. In fact, you had the feeling that anytime Alabama wanted to go to Jones he could get open for a big chunk of yards. Jones had 6 catches for 103 yards. Five of the six catches (his first five all on scoring drives) went for 13 yards or more. Only his last catch was for less than 10 yards. After Lincoln's first miss, Alabama went right at Tennessee with Jones as he caught a 19-yard and 35-yard pass on back-to-back plays in the Tide's first touchdown drive. The bottom line is after D.J. Hall schooled the Vols a year ago, Tennessee had no answer for Jones Saturday night.

4. Penalties - A year ago, Tennessee gave Alabama 5 first downs via penalty. Saturday night, Tennessee's offense negated three first downs by penalty. With where Tennessee is right now offensively, the Vols simply cannot shoot themselves in the foot with penalties and the frustration is that they seem to be coming at the most inopportune time. They are simple things like not lining up on the line of scrimmage and a false start penalty inside the 5-yard line negating a run to set up things at the Alabama 1-yard line. In their rival games this year, (Florida, Alabama, and Georgia) Tennessee has 26 penalties for 252 yards. That is simply unacceptable.

5. No push - Tennessee cannot move people up front. Alabama came in very stingy on defense against the run and I realize that Alabama's lead meant that Tennessee didn't give the running game a ton of tries, but when your longest run from scrimmage is an 11-yard scramble by the quarterback, who is not known for his feet, then you have a real problem. Outside of Stephens' run, Tennessee had 17 tailback carries and netted just 40 yards and 10 of the 17 went for 2 yards or less. You are just not going to win many games running for next to nothing as they did at Georgia and now against Alabama (who played the Vols with 7 in the box). For all of the talk and hype about the offensive line, they simply struggle to move people. Chris Scott and Jacques McClendon are struggling and it shows as Tennessee could not move the line of scrimmage.

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