With SEC East title at stake, Tennessee's offense peaking at right time
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The regular season is nearing the end and Tennessee still is playing meaningful games in November.
Despite the losses, injuries and player departures, the Vols still have a chance to reach their preseason goal and represent the SEC East in Atlanta.
A Florida loss at LSU Saturday along with the Vols taking care of business against Missouri and at Vanderbilt will set up a Tennessee-Alabama rematch in the SEC title game Dec. 3.
How did the Vols pick themselves up off the mat and get in this position?
First and foremost, Tennessee’s offense is peaking. Even during the 5-0 start, the Vols were not playing complete football. There were too many stagnant starts and turnovers.
Team chemistry was non-existent. With the transfer of disgruntled running back Jalen Hurd, it’s obvious that the team is more coherent and the offense is better suited with the smaller backs in Alvin Kamara (below) and John Kelly.
The two ran wild against Kentucky and were in sync with the offensive line.
“Our guys up front handled the big guys up front so that me and Alvin and Dobbs were able to run through some nice gaps,” Kelly said after the Kentucky game. “We were able to break tackles and we could execute all of our plays up front, so it was really good for us.”
Tennessee’s line is playing better as a unit with Kamara and Kelly in the backfield. Now that a bigger back in Hurd is gone, blocking schemes are more suited and are not adjusted with the two smaller backs in the backfield.
“Me and Alvin just open up so much for the offense,” Kelly said. “There is so much that we have to offer for our offense, so we are just taking advantage of the opportunities, and we keep the defense on their heels every time we are out there.”
Against Kentucky, the Vols set a school record for rushing touchdowns in 25 consecutive games. The last time the Vols did not find the end zone on the ground was in 2014 against Missouri.
Last season, Team 119 rushed for 2,908 yards, the second-most in school history. Running the football is a staple of Butch Jones’ offense, and it’s something that his players take pride in performing well in.
“That’s something that we always talked about since I got here, that we’re going to be able to run the football on people,” tight end Ethan Wolf said after the Kentucky game. “That’s an expectation from the offense going into the game. To see that happen, it’s exciting to know that all our hard work throughout three years is paying off.”
The performance against Kentucky from Kamara and Kelly sparks confidence and a sense that the season has been salvaged offensively. The two backs rushed for a combined 222 yards in only their second game as the No. 1 and No. 2 running back duo on game day. In their first game together, the duo rushed for 216 yards at Texas A&M.
The two games against Texas A&M and Kentucky provide proof that the Vols are peaking at the right time for the season after the duo of Kamara and Kelly are paired in the backfield. For the season, Tennessee has rushed for 1,876 yards and 438 of the yards were produced from Kamara and Kelly in the two games they were the No. 1 and No. 2 backs.