Entering Saturday, Tennessee’s running game was desperately searching for positives signs.
But against Georgia, the Volunteers were again left in the negative, literally.
The Bulldogs held UT to minus-20 rushing yards for the game on 23 attempts. Two UGA sacks helped contribute to the negative total, but UT running backs combined for just 26 rushing yards on 16 carries.
“I thought we would be O.K.,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I thought we would be better than what we’re doing against Florida and Georgia. I thought we would be about like what we were against Buffalo and Cincinnati. We haven’t run the ball well against two good defenses yet and that’s disappointing.”
Through five games, the Vols’ ground attack ranks last in the SEC and 114th in the country (out of 120 teams), averaging just 84.8 yards per game.
“If we can’t run the ball we aren’t going to beat good football teams,” Dooley said. “That’s a fact.”
Senior tailback Tauren Poole, the Vols’ 1,000-yard rusher last season, is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has 325 yards on the ground this year. He suffered a hamstring injury during the second quarter of the Georgia game and his status is unknown for this week’s game against LSU. Freshman Marlin Lane is second on the team in rushing with just 96 yards, averaging a modest 2.6 yards per carry.
“We will consider giving anyone some reps in the backfield if they can generate some yards,” Dooley said.
Returning Young
One option for the Vols could be freshman Devrin Young. The Knoxville native had 127 return yards on Saturday against the Bulldogs, including a 50-yard kickoff return in the third quarter, which was UT’s longest since the Kentucky game last year. Despite being undersized at 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, his ability as a “specialty back” could provide a spark in UT’s lackluster running game.
“He is doing good,” Dooley said. “He is a weapon and he is helping us with field position.”
Big play defense
Trailing 13-6 midway through the third quarter, UT thought it had created some momentum after a Matt Darr punt was downed at the UGA 7-yard line. On the drive’s first play, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray hit receiver Malcom Mitchell deep for a 71-yard gain to set up the Dawgs’ second touchdown, putting them up 20-6.
“That’s a huge play,” Dooley said. “You’re playing field position, it’s a one-score game, we’re trying to go three-and-out. Everything changed after that. Then, we really got affected.”
The big plays down the field were a result of UT using its safeties more in run support, something it did very well, holding UGA tailback Isaiah Crowell to his lowest rushing total of the season.
“We were playing a lot of run defense and crowding the box,” junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner said. “We were leaving the post of the field open and that is a tough job for the corner(back). We did a good job but they made a big play on one or two of those.”
Up next
The Vols’ future certainly doesn’t get any easier. UT’s next two games are at home against LSU on Oct. 15 before a trip to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama on Oct. 22.
“We’ve got one and two coming in,” Dooley said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for Tennessee.”