April 7, 2008

Timing part of key for UT 'O'

Consider it some sort of odd college football riddle: When is 25 greater than 40?

The answer might be as it relates to the proposed play clock for the upcoming 2008 season. In February, the NCAA Football Rules Committee suggested the college game adopt the same general format as the NFL -- a 40-second clock that begins the instant a play is blown dead by officials. Only on changes of possession or when the game is stopped for what the NCAA terms "administrative reasons" will the 25-second clock, which starts once an official places the ball, be utilized.

The proposed changes are expected to be formally applied later this month, but Tennessee already has been adjusting to the clock during its spring drills.

"Not waiting for the huddle to start when the official sets the ball. Getting into the habit that as soon as the play is dead, the huddle has got to start right away," said first-year UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson of the challenges faced when adapting to the new rule. "I think traditionally, OK, the official sets the ball and you set your huddle. Now your huddle's got to be set before the official sets the ball. We're not waiting on their cue anymore."

After shortening the game and lowering scores with rules -- clock running on change of possession among the most noticeable -- that coaches panned during the 2006 season, the committee went back to work in February with hopes of shortening games without curtailing scoring.

Practicing with the new clock the past two weeks, Tennessee's quarterbacks are treating the change as one more element to master in Clawson's new system.

"We have to get in and out of the huddle a little quicker," junior Jonathan Crompton said. "As soon as the play is dead, the 40-second clock starts. That's what we're trying to get used to. It's a little different, but we're starting to get used to it.

"We used it this week and last week, and we're using it in practice. So we're going to try to get used to it as best as possible."

Battling Crompton in the Vols' quarterback derby, Nick Stephens said he detects an elevated pace in drills and scrimmages.

"Honestly, it feels fast out there," Stephens said. "Coach (Phillip) Fulmer is getting on me and getting on everybody to get in the huddle. Quick tempo and getting out and getting down and getting set. It just seems like whenever we're out there, we only have about 10 seconds to work with. Obviously the more we work with that in practice, the more we'll get better with that.

"It's just something new in the game that we've got to get used to, and once we do, it will just be a thing of the past and we won't have to worry about it."

Clawson believes once offenses adjust to the rules it could become easier to dictate pace.

"I think it allows us to establish the tempo better, but you've got to be disciplined in order for that to happen," he said. "This is the first time we've done that (last Saturday's scrimmage), so we're not there yet."

And now, the clock's ticking.


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