November 22, 2009

First-half drive fuels victory

Short on time and a long way from the end zone, the Tennessee football team's offense returned to the field Saturday night at Neyland Stadium for one final first-half possession.

Quarterback Jonathan Crompton could have taken a knee to send the Volunteers into halftime with a 17-10 lead over Vanderbilt.

That's just not their style.

"Coach (Lane) Kiffin, man, we know he's going to attack every chance we get. We're expected to put points on the board every possession we've got, whether there's 30 seconds on the clock or we're starting the fourth quarter," UT tight end Luke Stocker said.

"It doesn't matter. We're expected to finish the drive and score points, and how much time is on the clock is just how fast we've got to move the ball."

In this case, Tennessee needed only 35 seconds to turn a seemingly harmless turnover on downs by the Commodores into a 61-yard scoring drive that changed the complexion of the Vols' 31-16 win at Neyland Stadium.

Four quick passes and a personal-foul penalty helped UT cover the distance in just 30 seconds.

Crompton's 16-yard touchdown toss to a leaping Stocker in the back of the end zone gave Tennessee a commanding 24-10 advantage with just 5 seconds left in the half.

"That was definitely a huge momentum shift going into halftime," redshirt freshman tackle Aaron Douglas said. "It probably took a little bit of life out of Vanderbilt. It was huge to get that touchdown before the half."

It was nothing new for Tennessee. Four times this year the Vols have scored points inside the final 90 seconds of the half.

"There's been a bunch of those this year where Jonathan has played really well in the two-minute (offense) and no-huddle. ... There's been some really big momentum turns, whether it be field goals or touchdowns, at the end of the half," Kiffin said.

"We've been doing a really good job with that, and that's something we did not do well at the beginning of the year. (Crompton) really struggled and had a bunch of turnovers in no-huddle situations, so it's good to see him improve."

The Vols took over at their own 39-yard line after Vanderbilt quarterback Mackenzi Adams threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-2.

Crompton's 11-yard pass to Quintin Hancock, combined with a roughing-the-passer penalty on Commodores defensive end Steven Stone, pushed UT to Vandy's 35.

Crompton then threw a perfectly set-up screen to tailback Montario Hardesty for a 13-yard gain to the 22 and hit Stocker for a 6-yard gain before the Vols called their second timeout with 10 seconds remaining.

Stocker followed with perhaps his most impressive catch of the season.

"I thought it wasn't that tough of a catch," said Stocker, who had with a team-high five receptions for 47 yards. "I guess it was high, over a linebacker or whatever. It was a great throw. I just jumped up and caught it."

The last-minute drive, which produced UT's final offensive points of the game, turned out even better than the Vols could have expected.

"Every time we get out on the field, we expect to go down there (and score), whether it's five minutes or 30 seconds," said Crompton, who threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns.

"Fortunately enough, we got the personal foul against (Vanderbilt) and it moved us 15 yards up, and we had three timeouts. That's an advantage of saving our timeouts and playing well in the first half. It paid off in the end."

So has Tennessee's extensive practice devoted to perfecting the hurry-up offense.

"I think it's just getting out there, lining up, catching the defense off guard a little bit where (the defense) can't really get set up the way they want to -- I think there's a few things that play factors," Douglas said. "But we work on it a lot, and obviously, these coaches have us prepared for every situation."

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