KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Much like last week, the focus of Wednesday afternoon’s practice honed in on improving the Vols’ execution on third downs and effectiveness inside the red zone.
“Third-down and red area, those are the two things that are really hurting us,” Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. “We’ve been pretty good on third-and-6 or less when you look at it statistically but third-and-7 or above, we’ve been atrocious. We need to get better on third-and-7 and above and that’s what we’re working on. In the red area, we have to hold them to field goals and we haven’t done that on defense. We have to punch it in on offense. That’s what the real emphasis was today.”
Offensively, UT has struggled converting third downs in the early part of the season. Third-and-long situations allow the defense to display different looks, which can be disruptive to a relatively young offense. To improve, however, it will take all phases of the offense to click.
“It takes great execution at all levels,” Dooley said. “The protection has to be good because that’s when you’re going to see a lot more junk, if you will. They know you’re not going to run the ball or if you do it’s a draw. The routes have to be precise. There are blitzes so we have to do the blitz pick-up. We have to throw hot. Then it comes down to making a throw and catch. That’s what 90 percent of third down is. I hate to say it but once you get above third-and-5 or 6 it comes down to making a throw and a catch. It takes a lot of work and it takes confidence. It takes good plays. It takes everything.”
For the Vols to be successful on third downs, it will start with the man under center, quarterback Matt Simms. Simms, who is set to start his fourth career game Saturday vs. UAB, has improved in every game. The junior college transfer set career-bests in completions (19), attempts (31), yards (259) and touchdowns (two) against Florida last week.
“I think Matt doesn’t get affected, which is good,” Dooley said. “That’s important. He’s tough. I mean, (he) got hit a lot and he got hit hard in that game. He kept coming and there are not many quarterbacks that do that. I think it’s a good trait. He has good physical toughness, he has good mental toughness, and he has accountability. Those are great qualities to have and he’ll keep playing better because of it.”
After facing two top-10 opponents in Oregon and Florida in consecutive weeks and with a trip to LSU looming, it’s important that the Vols remain focused when they welcome UAB to Neyland Stadium Saturday. The Blazers are coming off a thrilling 34-33 come-from-behind victory in which they won on the final play of the game, a 44-yard touchdown throw.
“I hope we’re not looking ahead,” Dooley said. “I don’t see why we would. We’re focusing in on improvement. That’s the big thing. We’re looking at what they’re doing, how we can attack them, and how we can improve at each position. I hope the kids are doing that because if we’re not, it’s not going to be a good day Saturday.”
Freshman offensive guard Zach Fulton, who has seen action in two of three games, is making the most of his opportunities thus far as a result of hard work.
“He’s doing good,” Dooley said. “He’s progressed and he’s earned the right to play a little bit. I don’t know how much. We’ll get him in there at some point and see how he does. He has a good mentality. He has a big body. He’s strong and powerful. I think he’s going to be a good player for us.”
Tickets for the 2010 football season remain available for all six home games left on the schedule.
Tickets for the UAB contest are available for $40 and can be purchased via UTtix.com, over the phone at 865/656-1200 or 800/332-VOLS (8657), or at the ticket counter. Because of construction at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Athletics Department Ticket Office is temporarily located on the northwest concourse level of the arena directly above the old ticket office location. Office hours Monday through Friday are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time.
Other games on this year’s slate are Alabama on Oct. 23, Mississippi for Homecoming on Nov. 13 and Kentucky on Nov. 27. Prices are $60 each for Ole Miss, and $50 for Kentucky.
Single seats with no adjacent seating are all that remain for the Alabama contest, and those tickets cost $70.