Dave Clawson, fortunately, doesn't appear to be going bald. But he acknowledged untimely turnovers in Saturday's scrimmage likely accelerated the process.
Outside the "Red Zone," Clawson thought his offense might have had its best day yet against the first-team defense. But things quickly disintegrated when the offense moved into scoring position. Junior quarterback Jonathan Crompton had a tipped-pass interception inside the 20-yard line and another pick waived off by a presumed sack as the first-team unit failed to dent the end zone against the first-team defense. Tailback Montario Hardesty, who started as Arian Foster nursed a sore leg, also coughed up a fumble after the offense had moved across midfield.
"The interceptions inside the 20s are the ones that will cause you to lose games because those are the ones you lose points on and those are the ones that give up points," said Clawson. "Two of our turnovers today, the one was inside the 10 or the 15, and the other was I think about the 25 or so. You have a situation that with our kicking game, we have three points on the board and we're trying to make it seven. And now you walk away with nothing. Those are the ones that coaches pull their hair out on."
The junior from Waynesville, N.C., Crompton, who finished 12 of 16 for 114 passing yards, couldn't point to any one specific problem that caused the Vols offense to bog down each time in moved into scoring position.
"Just different things," said Crompton, who has thrown at least one interception in every major team scrimmage since becoming the starter in spring camp. "I don't really know right now. I'd have to get back and watch the film and see how the D-line played and the linebackers and secondary and everything because it all comes into one. I don't want to say something and regret it, but we've got to make better decisions."
Indeed, both Clawson and head coach Phillip Fulmer lamented Crompton's decision-making in scoring situations. Fulmer doesn't think his starting quarterback is uncomfortable in Clawson's first-year offense.
"I think Jon's a little too comfortable," Fulmer said. "He understands what to do, but that green shirt can ruin you. I want the ball out quicker sometimes, like he did there at the end when he pulled it down and ran the ball to make a play.
"I thought he had a really good scrimmage numbers-wise, but you can't turn the ball over."
The turnovers, Clawson said, ruined an otherwise good day and perpetuated a pattern that first emerged during spring camp.
"We've got to keep working and make it better," Clawson said of the offense's giveaways. "We're going to work hard at it and constantly talk about it and preach it and do drills and do whatever we can to reduce it. But when the lights go on and the score counts, those things can't happen.
"It's not just a matter of hoping it's going to go away. It's reared its ugly head enough that we've got to address it."
Wideout Josh Briscoe, who had two tough catches for 50 yards and set up a touchdown, said coaches talked at length about protecting the football going into the scrimmage.
"We had a fumble and an interception that stopped two critical drives for us that we really needed," said Briscoe, who made a dazzling catch from his back after a ball squirted up in the air. "We've just got to come out and take care of the ball better and have better ball security. We're going to keep working for that and just remember inside the 20, we've got to score.
"That was the thing that we talked about a lot going into this scrimmage, to move the ball and not give good teams an advantage against us. We did a great job of taking care of the ball last year, and it's something we're working hard to continue to do that. The more our offense stays on the field, the better chance we figure we have to win."
Clawson, who praised Crompton's ability to make every necessary throw on a football field, likewise praised the Vols' defense for simply making some good plays that thwarted the offense's scoring chances.
"You've got to, at times, give credit to the defense," Clawson said. "I think in some cases the defense has made great breaks on the ball and made great reactions, but they are just isolated plays. Yet that's what football is. It's a series of isolated plays, and two or three of those isolated plays can cost you a football game."
Brandon Warren played extensively in the scrimmage but didn't have any catches. Warren told VolQuest earlier this week that his time on the field offered rare freedom from the tormenting wait of his appeals process. Warren hasn't played football since his Freshman All-America 2006 season at Florida State and has worked to gain eligibility at Tennessee.
But the former Alcoa Mr. Football winner acknowledged that the wait is taking a toll.
"It's been eating at me," he said. "It's just one of those things. It's a process that I have to go through. I wish I could hurry it up, but it's not in my hands. I am always thinking about it. Hopefully it will all be over soon and I will get some good news."
Sources have indicated to VolQuest.com that one of the governing bodies has requested more paperwork regarding Warren's appeal, and it continues to seem likely that any decision is still several days away.
Though his final stats reflected just 11 rushing yards on nine tries, freshman Tauren Poole continued to press forward in the Vols' crowded backfield after an impressive spring camp. Poole also gathered two passes for 22 yards.
"He's a good football player, and somehow, some way we've got to make sure that we have a role for him," Clawson said of the rookie from Toccoa, Ga. "It's a crowded house, but you can say that about four of our backs. We have four guys. It's a good problem. I think it will help us on special teams, and each of them do things a little bit different.
"Right now Arian and Montario are 1 and 2. But those other guys certainly are very talented and doing things that you wish you could play 120 snaps in the game. Those are the hard decisions."
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