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The Tennessee Volunteer offense: some assembly required

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It's been nine days since the UCLA game, and my knee has just now, right this second, stopped twitching. Mine's not the only one. Vol fans everywhere have allowed their primary leg joints to jerk in a hundred directions. Fire Fulmer. Fire Chavis. And Slade. Tell Arian Foster to stop running when he gets to the 20 and have him tag off to Hardesty. Replace Crompton. Kill the Incredible Flipping O-Line. Kill the Clawfense. RUN THE BALL! STOP WITH THE PREVENT/SOFTZONEDEFENSEALREADYWILLYA!

And on and on. Both of my knees are resting comfortably now, thank you, having spent themselves in involuntary effort. So deep breath. Who are the 2008 Tennessee Volunteers? What can we expect? When should we expect it?

Well, the coaches are busying themselves trying to "identify the offense." Somebody somewhere must have concluded something, though, because the Tennessean says that UT wants to air it out, which is something you do with things that stink. (Oops. Sorry. Aftershock.) But you know what? They might actually be right. All last season we were clamoring for the offense to stretch the field vertically. This is a good idea even when your running backs are running well because it weakens the defense by softening it. Tennessee had only 10 pass plays that went for more than 40 yards in 2007, and the scouting report that developed out of that likely led to that key interception in the SEC Championship.

The whole making the defense more malleable with bombs notion, of course, presumes that at least some of them are on target. We had only one against UCLA, a 41-yarder to Josh Briscoe, but we kept trying, and Crompton and the receivers just couldn't connect.

That was just one of the problems last Monday night. Another was the absolutely frightening statistic uncovered by GVX's Mike Strange: Tennessee going three-and-out nine out of 15 times is the most offensive futility experienced by the Vols in at least 14 years. At least. Strange gave up looking after that. The worst shame, according to Clawson, was that the team was actually fairly efficient on first down. We died on second and couldn't revive on third. In Clawson's words, "We had a lot of second-and-very-manageable that we turned into third-and-unmanageable."

But yes, these things are correctable, and -- and here's the key -- they're being corrected.

Fulmer is fuming. The Papa is "as angry as he can remember following a loss," and his practice tirades have apparently been heard a block away this week. And then there's this statement from Clawson that I find quite encouraging:

What's your fastball? What are you good at? There's your starting point, and then you build it from there. I think that's what you learn in the start of the season, what can you get consistently good at and then you build your base offense around that and your changeups come off of that.

It happens all the time. You bring home some new purchase and open the box only to find that you neglected to read the fine print. Some assembly required. Batteries not included. Fulmer and Clawson are working the wrenches, and they'll find that one thing at which we are best. The best news of all is that once they do, they apparently won't be content with just that one thing. That one thing will merely be a building block.

Somehow, we've forgotten that you can only throw a changeup after you establish your strength. You can only enjoy a new toy after it's been assembled and powered up. What do you know? There is a reason to be excited about the football season after all.