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Closer Look at the Tennessee Running Game

Tennessee Rushing Offense Preview

Well, with this whole Outback Bowl thing coming up, I figure I better get my butt in gear and start covering it. In the coming days I will cover the Vol defense and passing game, but today we will look at the Tennessee rushing offense. First, let's start with the stats.

NCAA Rushing Offense Rank #94
SEC Rushing Offense Rank #10
Total Yards 1321
Average Yards per Game 110
Average Yards per Carry 3.7
Rushing Touchdowns 16

At first glance it appears this team either can't run the ball or like Michigan State and Purdue they have no interest in even trying to run the ball. I suspect it is the former since Tennessee traditionally runs a very balanced offense. This season they attempted 359 rushing plays and attempted 378 passing plays, so they do try to be balanced. In his press conference this week head coach Phil Fulmer said,

Our offensive front versus their defensive front and linebackers will be a challenge. We haven't been the kind of running football team during the course of the year that I would liked to have been, or that Coach Cutcliffe would like for us to be. That is a concern we still are working to address.

So I think we can conclude that his team wants to run the ball but has difficulty doing so.

Running Back Arian Foster

Their leading rusher is LaMarcus Coker who finished the year with 660 yards on 103 carries scoring 4 TD. The 5'11" 205 lb redshirt freshman is lightning quick with an impressive 6.4 ypc. In high school he was state champion in the 100M and 200M dashes. But there are some red flags that make me question how effective Coker will be in the game. He missed two games this year after injuring his knee against Alabama. He did come back and play pretty well in the final three games, but he currently is not practicing and missed the full contact scrimmage Tennessee held yesterday. Fulmer indicated Coker "did not do something he promised he would do" and he is sitting out a few practices.

Also seeing a lot of carries for the Vols this season was freshman Montario Hardesty who finished with 382 yards and 4 TD on 104 carries. It appears the bulk of his carries and all of his touchdowns came in the first half of the year as his playing time reduced as the season went on.

Sophomore Arian Foster appears to be the most talented of the group, but his career has been plagued by injuries and off the field problems. After breaking out with five consecutive 100 yard games in 2005, he injured an ankle that ended his season. More ankle problems have limited his play this season. Then on Nov. 7 he was involved in a bar fight with some teammates that ended up getting him suspended for a few games. He returned for the last few games but didn't get many carries. But with Coker landing in the doghouse Foster may be a surprise player the Nits aren't expecting to see.

Of course your running game is only as good as your offensive line. Here is how they line up.

The Offensive Line
LT Arron Sears 6-4/320 Sr
LG David Ligon 6-5/300 Sr
C Josh McNeil 6-4/290 Fr
RG Anthony Parker 6-3/305 So
RT Eric Young 6-4/310 Jr

Other than McNeil replacing Michael Frogg as the starter in week 5 this is a pretty stable line that didn't see many lineup changes throughout the year. Sears is the real deal having been voted first team all SEC and first team All-American by the AP.

From what I gather from my cruising of some Tennessee bloggers, the general sense is this group cannot put together a consistent performance. Either they run block well or they pass block well, but they never do both at the same time. So much like our Nittany Lions, the Vols have a fantastic left tackle and four other guys running around just trying not to screw up.

So in summary, this is a team that wants to run the ball but doesn't have much success. Soon I'll cover the Tennessee passing game and then I will break down how I believe Penn State will try to defend the Vols. Then we will move on to the Tennessee defense.