Published September 7, 2012 - 12:50pm
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I’ve set a goal for Tennessee’s ground game at 135 yards rushing per week. If they can average 135 yards per game throughout the season, they’ll have a real shot at winning the SEC East.
Throughout this season, we’ll be tracking the running game for Tennessee, because we all know they can throw the ball around the yard with Tyler Bray. But the ground game was worst in the SEC last season, averaging 90 yards per game. Arkansas, who finished 11-2, averaged 137 yards per game with no dynamic running back playing, as Knile Davis was hurt. I think the Vols can win the East averaging 135 yards per game on the ground with such a dynamic passing attack.
With all five starters returning on the offensive line, this group is poised and deep enough to take a big step in the running game. And averaging 45 more yards per game, from 90 to 135, is a big step. I realize that.
We know what Tyler Bray can do; we know what Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson can do in the receiving game, too. But it all hinges around the ground game.
Last week against NC State, you saw drives stay alive and the play action come alive simply because the running game got going early. Tennessee ran for 191 yards on 38 attempts, averaging 5.0 yards per carry with two touchdowns. That’s production. Obviously Patterson broke the long 67-yarder, and he will add to the ground game production as well.
We saw sophomore Marlin Lane average 8.3 yards per carry, with Rajion Neal getting the bulk of the carries with 22, but he wants to bounce everything outside.
Earlier this week, Derek Dooley released the depth chart for his running backs, and it listed Rajion Neal, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young all as first-team starters.
I’m okay with that simply because it’s week two. However, deeper into the season, I think you will see a whole lot more Marlin Lane than Neal.
Neal probably makes big plays in practice because he loves to bounce it outside. But practice simulation is hardly like game quickness. Guys aren’t cutting linemen and linebackers in practice. Therefore, Neal probably really succeeds running the ball during the week. He doesn’t like to run between the tackles, though. With a guy like Neal, Tennessee will see some big carries go for many yards, but when he’s not breaking a big play by bouncing it outside, Neal will go for two to three yards per carry. That’s what he averaged against NC State.
I think Marlin Lane gives this team an edge at running back, and he’s the only one who can do it. He can run between the tackles. He showed it last week on nine carries for 75 yards. He has a quick first step, and he gives this team a different runner than Neal.
Devrin Young will be a changeup back, working into the lineup in certain situations. He’ll play more this week against Georgia State in mop-up duty.
This group, however, will have to stay healthy because it is very thin. If one of Neal or Lane goes down, this offense will have to rely more on the passing game, and the offense can’t have that and be successful. While the passing offense is outstanding, the ground game furthermore gives them an edge.
This week will be a breeze, but looking ahead on the schedule, week three against the Gators loom. Will Muschamp is a defensive minded coach, and he’ll attempt take away something on offense for Tennessee. That’s what good defensive coaches do. So, Tennessee needs to develop their rushing attack further.
They have to have balance on offense, and Tennessee’s goal each week is to get 135 yards production on the ground in an effort to win the SEC East.
We’ll be tracking this all season.