KNOXVILLE – It was perhaps the strangest play in a game filled with mishaps last Saturday at Florida.
At the 10:21 mark of the second quarter, with Tennessee trailing 10-7, the Vols had a 2nd and 12 at the Florida 26. A Florida player appeared to jump into the neutral zone, center James Stone snapped the ball and then the offensive line froze to a complete halt.
Four untouched Florida defensive linemen rushed at quarterback Nathan Peterman. They drilled Peterman, who released a prayer of a throw to Jason Croom in the end zone. The ball ultimately fell incomplete (it was nearly intercepted), but Croom was flagged for offensive pass interference in the process of trying to chase it down.
The CBS broadcasters, and likely many fans, chalked it up as a whacky attempt at a trick play.
It wasn’t. It’s a technique taught to the offensive linemen to make sure that the defense is flagged for offsides when it crosses into the neutral zone and the O-line isn’t blamed for moving first.
“The rationale is we don’t want to give any doubt to the officials as to who jumped offsides, also, to a certain extent, it catches the defense off guard,” explained offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
But there was one problem on this particular play – the defense wasn’t called for being offsides. A closer look at the film reveals that it was very close. Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley sprung into the neutral zone, didn’t make contact with any UT linemen and then hopped back.
That play certainly hurt the Vols. The offensive pass interference backed them up 15 yards, to the Florida 41. After losing yardage on the next play, they ended up in a 3rd-and-33 situation, then burned a timeout. When it was all said and done, they ended up punting. Florida scored next and the Vols never got as close as the 10-7 deficit they faced before the freeze play.
Will the Vols re-think their strategy? Not according to Bajakian.
He thinks the benefits outweight the potential risks.
Added offensive line coach Don Mahoney: “In an up-tempo [offense] it’s just a little different in how you operate and how you move, so we’ll vary things up. It’s something where there’s discipline involved and there’s getting over the ball and the command of the quarterback and the guy on defense jumps and the center has to have the awareness of if the guy is completely across and snap it.
“It’s got to be where there’s no doubt with the officials, which was there was on Saturday, which he was wrong.”
• Out: WR Devrin Young, TE Alex Ellis, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, TE Justin Meredith, TE Joseph Ayres, WR Ryan Jenkins, QB Nathan Peterman, DT Allan Carson
• Limited: TE A.J. Branisel, S Brian Randolph. LB Raiques Crump, WR Vincent Dallas, CB Riyahd Jones, S Max Arnold, LB John Propst, WR Johnathon Johnson, WR Cody Blanc, WR Drae Bowles
• The Vols started practice with the ‘bull in the ring’ drill where two players go one on one in a blocking drill trying to knock the other out. The most obvious win came from defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, who drove guard Alex Bullard almost completely out of the circle.
• It appears UT might utilize a fullback in some capacity this week, something the Vols haven’t done this season with any regularity. There’s no true fullback on the roster, but Joe Stocstill, a walk-on utility player who has played quarterback and linebacker thus far in his UT career, was getting some first-team reps at fullback at practice. Stocstill was also seen working with the tight ends during position drills.
• Scouts from the Buffalo Bills were at practice. Coach Butch Jones was regularly calling out defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, an NFL prospect, telling him that the scouts were there to “see if he has a pulse.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga