Monday, September 03, 2007

Tri Cities Sports: Poor Tackling and Failure to Convert Third-and-Short Kills Vol Chances

By Ron Bliss

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Who wins most football games comes down to who makes big plays and who doesn't. Saturday night, No. 12 California made big play after big play, while No. 15 Tennessee failed to come through in the clutch several times and quarterback Erik Ainge said that proved the difference in the 45-31 loss to he Golden Bears.  "Third-and-one, third-and-two, and third-and-two,'' said Ainge after the game. "Those plays will haunt me and they were the difference in the game.''  To wit: 

1) With the game tied at 14-14 in the first quarter, Tennessee had a third-and-one at its own 37 but a pass from Ainge to Arian Foster was stopped for a two-yard loss. Tennessee was forced to punt and All-American kick returner DeSean "Action" Jackson returned the punt 77 yards for a Cal score that made it 21-14 with 12:23 left in the second quarter.

2) Tennessee has a third-and-one from the Cal 37 when a Cal blitz forced an Ainge fumble and a seven-yard loss. The Vols kicked out of bounds 13 yards to the Cal 31, but the Bears marched for a Jordan Kay field goal to go up 31-21 at halftime.

3) Tennessee responds to an opening score by Cal in the third quarter by roaring downfield and getting a first-and-goal at the Cal 2 on a 43-yard run by Foster, who turned to look back at a defender and was caught from behind. Foster was then stopped for no gain at the 2, a trick play with Lucas Taylor at quarterback nets just one yard to the one and then the ball slips out of Ainge's hand on a fourth-down pass play and Cal takes over, killing the Vol drive.  "We did good on offense tonight, but when you are playing the No. 12 team in the nation good is not good enough,'' said Ainge. "You have to be great and we didn't get the job done in those situations. We have to make plays and we didn't.''

Ainge said it was obvious Cal was going to stack the line when the Vols were at the two, so they had to try other ways to score. The calls were good, he said, but the execution was not.  Ainge was playing with a broken pinky finger on his throwing hand, but still completed 32 of 47 passes for 271 yards. "It came out of there pretty ugly on a couple passes,'' said Ainge, "but for the most part it didn't bother me.''  What was just as big as the failures in short-yardage situations was the inability to get any kind of rush on Cal quarterback Nate Longshore and the poor tackling that allowed Cal to pile up yardage after first contact. Tennessee didn't sack Longshore even once and registered just one quarterback hurry in the game. "You can't give a quarterback like him that much time back there,'' said Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis, whose defense allowed 471 yards -- 241 through the air and 230 on the ground. "They have a really talented offense, but we made them look a little better than what they are. We were not able to pressure when we needed to.''

Chavis was even more upset about the tackling -- or the lack of same. "We didn't tackle as well as we should and that's my responsibility,'' said Chavis. "We're going to work and get better on defense. This was not a typical Tennessee defense tonight. We'll go back and do whatever we need to do to get better. We'll look a personnel, if we need to, but I assure you we'll get better.'' "We did not tackle well,'' echoed head coach Phillip Fulmer. "Justin Forsett is really good. Coming into last year's game, I was more worried about him than I was Marshawn Lynch and Lynch winds up going No. 9 in the draft. And No. 4 (Jahvid Best) gives them a dimension that is special because of his speed. There were a number of occasions when we just looked bad. We looked bad trying to tackle those guys. Their front did a good job moving us more than we would have liked, so you have to give them credit. Actually, we had tackled pretty good in our last scrimmage, but this is a different situation.'' Tennessee got a scare late in the game when DE Xavier Mitchell was hurt on a play near the Vol goal and lay motionless for several minutes. Fulmer later reported that Mitchell was alert and was moving his extremities but was taken off the field on a cart and to a local hospital for tests and x-rays. "It was more of a precaution than anything,'' said Fulmer. "He was experiencing a little numbness. We hope he is released and allowed to fly back with us tomorrow.'' Despite the failings, linebacker Ryan Karl noted it was just one game. "We still have a chance to win the SEC and go to a BCS bowl game,'' said Karl. "We just need to go back to work, learn from our mistakes and get better.'' Tennessee hosts Southern Miss in its home opener next week.


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