KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After an unpredictable week on Rocky Top, football must go on.

The program must go on, too, after losing to South Carolina and losing one of its most heralded players in running back Jalen Hurd.

For the Tennessee run game, the page has turned to Alvin Kamara and John Kelly.

Kelly will be the lead back this week against Tennessee Tech, as Kamara sits out another week with a knee injury.

Kelly rushed for a career-high 94 yards on 14 carries against South Carolina. A sophomore, Kelly is fourth on the team in yards (209) but first in yards-per-carry (6.3).

“I have never seen anyone run as angry as John Kelly,” offensive lineman Brett Kendrick said of his teammate. “Little crazy legs, he got up running off the ground a couple times at A&M. I don’t know, he’s just unlike anybody I’ve ever seen before. He just gets off the ground so angry and wants the ball again. He’s fun though, he’s fun to block for.”

Read More

Tennessee sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020. Tennessee was the first SEC state to legalize sports betting.

Kelly also ran for 89 yards and scored one touchdown against Texas A&M while helping Kamara fill in for Hurd, who was injured and did not travel to College Station.

Once Kamara returns from a knee injury – he’s expected back next week against Kentucky – he and Kelly could be a spark to ignite a sluggish Volunteers offense that hasn’t delivered a signature performance this season.

While the Vols might miss Hurd, they’ve already moved on.

“The mood of the team is very positive,” quarterback Josh Dobbs said, describing a players-only meeting Sunday night. “It was just a meeting that was needed just for us to lock in and focus on finishing out the season strong. It was a very effective meeting. We got a lot out of it. It has helped us make sure that our approach was right coming into this week and going forward.”

Overall, the meeting seems have rebuild team chemistry, trust and commitment, requisites before hitting the rewind button on a bad situation.

“I think the meeting was good,” junior defensive back Todd Kelly, Jr. said. “Coach (Butch) Jones came and talked to us about effort and energy. The players talked with one another. With that being said, we know what we need to do and that’s between the team. We are going to handle business one week at a time.”

As the days passed since Hurd’s announcement, the team’s identity has been in question, and it’s something Kelly Jr. is not shying away from.

“I would say relentless, caring for one another, and really a team-first mindset,” Kelly said. “Everyone has the same goal. It’s team-oriented, it’s not individual-oriented, so everybody wants and focuses on the team first. That’s how I describe this team as a whole.”

Losing to South Carolina hurt the Vols’ odds of winning the SEC East — they need to win out and have Florida lose at least twice — but it’s still possible.

But the offense will need to be better.

Maybe now, with fewer distractions and one fewer disgruntled player, Kelly and Kamara can provide a boost to the running game to complement Dobbs and salvage what’s left of a most trying season.