Mitchell: Tenn's volunteer running game

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Sep 17, 2012


Monday Thought: Mitchell on the Tennessee ground game



- Fiutak: The Tide might be special, but do you care?
- Cirminiello: Prove it, Florida State
- Mitchell: The Volunteer running game
- Zemek: The John L. Smith Situation
- Harrison: Virginia Tech being Virginia Tech
- Johnson: Is McCarron in the Heisman hunt?

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

Through the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s game between Tennessee and Florida, the Vols play calling had been very balanced...and very effective. 24 running plays to 26 passes had so far worked well for the Vols. Both teams were even in time of possession but Tennessee was up on the scoreboard, 20 to 13. Its defense was rested and doing a fair job of bending but not breaking.

There was a feeling of Gator desperation hanging in the Neyland Stadium air, punctuated by Florida head coach Will Muschamp's fake punt attempt that failed near midfield (thanks to solid special teams play by the Vols). The game seemed squarely in the hands of Tennessee and its vocal home crowd.

Then Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley abandoned the running game and the wheels fell off the cart.

The Vols may have run 22 more plays in the game's final 20 minutes, but they only ran the ball four of those times. During that span, Tennessee had six series - three of these disappeared quickly in three and outs, and another ended in an interception.

Even with the Gators' offensive onslaught - 24 unanswered points on the way back to the team plane - it was just a two possession game until the final six minutes.

And still...just four rushing attempts.

By comparison, on the evening Florida would run the ball 43 times for 336 yards.

Entering the contest, Tennessee had made great strides with its rushing game - albeit in a very young 2012 season. However, after finishing 2011 dead last in the SEC, and nearly dead last in the country, the Vols averaging 188 rushing yards in the first two games behind a seasoned and largely upperclassman offensive line was something to embrace.

Not against SEC defenses, certainly...but remember, Tennessee failed to reach the 150 yard mark in all 12 games last year and ran for -9 yards net yards in Gainesville.

Yet after running the ball with moderate success for the first two thirds of the game Saturday, and benefiting from the softer passing lanes such running engenders, Tennessee seemed to suddenly forget the running game was even an option – let alone a necessity.

Tyler Bray is an amazing talent. Tennessee's offensive line is much improved and its wide receivers, even with a poor case of the drops, remain perhaps the best in the conference. The defense is also improved over 2011.

But one dimensional passing offenses typically hit a ceiling against the SEC’s stronger teams. Under Bobby Petrino, Arkansas could rarely get past LSU, and never Alabama. Moreover, for nearly a decade now we’ve chronicled how passing offenses from outside the conference have struggled against the SEC’s best in bowl games.

Tennessee's fate will be the same if it cannot find, and stick with, a rushing attack. Less than 100 yards rushing per game is a recipe for failure in this conference.

Derek, this is hardly a news flash.

Russ Mitchell is CFN's lead SEC Columnist. Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb

- Fiutak: The Tide might be special, but do you care?
- Cirminiello: Prove it, Florida State
- Mitchell: The Volunteer running game
- Zemek: The John L. Smith Situation
- Harrison: Virginia Tech being Virginia Tech
- Johnson: Is McCarron in the Heisman hunt?