One of the most encouraging bits of information coming out of spring practice is that new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson's "system" is designed with flexibility in mind so that the coaches can get the ball to the team's best playmakers. Now we're all fans here, and we love The Papa, but let's be honest. At times, hasn't it seemed like the system trumped personnel, that seniority and experience was valued over talent, at least until that talent was proven by way of a few live experiments. During a pocast last year, Corn from a Jar said something that stuck with me. "Florida stars are discovered during the Tennessee game. Tennessee stars are discovered after the Florida game." Too true. Too often something goes horribly wrong and we are left attempting to explain why the front fell off. Post-game press conferences sometimes sounded eerily similar to this:
Well then, any news indicating that Coach Claw's primary focus is to design plays with the playmakers in mind rather than the other way around is encouraging. You know, like this:
"One thing I do know is that we've got to get the ball into Gerald Jones' hands in order for us to win," said receivers coach Latrell Scott, who came to Knoxville with Clawson from Richmond. "He's one of the most dynamic playmakers that we have on this team."
Ooh. I like that. And this, also from Scott:
But we've heard words like these before, haven't we? Well this time, it looks like we really mean it:
Hey, this can win games. Case in point:
2007, Tennessee at Kentucky, with a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship on the line. Tennessee dominated Kentucky in the first half, but allowed the Wildcats to come back and tie the game in the second. Kentucky went first in overtime and got a touchdown and an extra point. We needed the same to tie. Enter Gerald Jones:
You knew I was going to bring that up, right? But do you remember what happened next? After the teams traded turnovers in the second overtime (an interception for us and a blocked field goal attempt for them), Kentucky again went first and again got a touchdown. We needed a touchdown to tie. But first, we needed a first down. Uh, Gerald?
The guy caught the ball six yards from the first down marker with two guys between him and where he needed to be. So he just split them. You know, like a playmaker.
Now if you are like me, you may think that that was the end of Gerald Jones' contributions to the Tennessee-Kentucky game. But no. On the very next play, Ainge tossed a pass to Austin Rogers, who followed fantastic blocks by his fellow wide receivers to the end zone for the tie. Watch No. 4, top of the screen:
Yep. Gerald Jones again. But wait. There's more, and you have to look closely to see this one. Remember when Ainge found a wide open Quintin Hancock for the go-ahead touchdown on the first play of the fourth overtime? Why was he so wide open? One letter: G. Watch the defender in the middle of the screen.
When G finished his route and turned and looked for Ainge, the Kentucky defender abandoned Hancock and double covered Jones.
So let's recap: Jones (1) makes a fantastic, athletic touchdown catch to send the game to a second overtime; (2) first gets a key, against-all-odds first down in the third overtime and then the key, touchdown-making block on the next play to send the game to a fourth overtime; and (3) serves as a decoy for yet another touchdown.
So yeah. Let's get Gerald Jones the ball, shall we?