KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee's coaching staff calls center James Stone the "gas pedal" of the offense.
If anybody has the pulse on exactly how fast the up-tempo Volunteers are moving, it's the senior from Nashville.
In the season-opening waltz against Austin Peay, Tennessee's first-team offense ran 41 plays in the first half before watching the entire second half from the sideline with the game well in hand.
That, Stone said, was "probably like a 6 or a 7" on a scale of 1 to 10.
"We were going pretty fast," he said following Tuesday's practice, "but there was times we started to slow down."
First-year coach Butch Jones wants his offense to play faster, starting with Saturday's game against upstart Western Kentucky.
But how do Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, who have orchestrated an up-tempo power spread offense for the past six seasons with success at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, measure the speed?
It's based on both the coaches' feel and some number analysis.
"I think it's lining up, getting lined up fast after the play is over, sprinting to the line of scrimmage," Jones told the Times Free Press on Tuesday. "It's the 40-second [play] clock, but also how do we line up? How are we in our stances? How are we finishing plays? The 'fast' adjective means a lot -- not just playing it up-tempo, but getting lined up fast, finishing plays, all those things."
The Vols actually use four different speeds in their offense, but good luck getting any of them to share the terminology.
"I don't know if I can tell you the names," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said Monday. "We say them out there on the field. That's when we change."
All Stone would divulge is they're "kind of creative."
Jones said the Vols adjust their tempo throughout the course of the series, and much of the pace is predicated on the game's situation. If Bajakian and Jones feel the offense is finding a rhythm, they'll likely press for less time between plays. Obviously that changes if Tennessee is trying to chew up clock time.
"It's just like a cadence," Jones said. "It's like a car, just pushing the gas pedal down. We can change it at any point in time."
Said Stone: "Whenever they get the call, the quarterback lets us know, and that's what we're going. Whatever the tempo the quarterback gives us, that's what the offensive line is going."
Yet there's more to the pace than simply the speed. The Vols want to wear down opposing defenses, but they have to balance that with their own conditioning and the ensuing mistakes that can cost victories.
"We have to do a better job of getting lined up and playing faster and [showing] the ability to strain and sustain when you play," Jones said Monday. "A lot of times when you play fast, your technique kind of suffers. The ability to sustain suffers, and we don't want to be that.
"When we've played great offensive football in this offensive scheme, we were able to play at a very high tempo and never relinquish the ability to play physical and play fundamentally sound with the small details. That's part of the mental conditioning. That's part of that development process that we're working right now through as an offensive unit."
Bajakian said during the preseason he wants about 12 to 14 seconds between plays, and Stone said the target is snapping the ball with more than 20 seconds left on the play clock, which the Vols did 16 times in the opener.
"That's the goal," he said, "is to get it increasing every week."
"That's going to get better over time [by] just practicing," James said. "That was the first game, so I feel like it will get better. As offensive linemen, we've got to line up faster, and the receivers have to get the calls faster and line up faster."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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