published Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Vols to be efficient rushing against Florida

Florida running back Jeff Demps (28) is pushed out of bounds on the 1-yard line by Tennessee defensive back Prentiss Waggner (23) after a 28-yard pass play during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Gainesville, Fla.
Florida running back Jeff Demps (28) is pushed out of bounds on the 1-yard line by Tennessee defensive back Prentiss Waggner (23) after a 28-yard pass play during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Gainesville, Fla.
Photo by Associated Press.

KNOXVILLE — The graphic is sure to pop up during ESPN's broadcast on Saturday night.

The team with the most rushing yards has won the last seven meetings between Tennessee and Florida, and perhaps no other stat demonstrates the Gators' seven-year dominance in the annual mid-September rivalry.

For this Volunteers' offense, though, it's more about quality than quantity in the ground game, and Tennessee's main goal is efficiency.

"I don't know if we have to outrush them or they need to outrush us to have victory," Vols offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said after Wednesday morning's practice. "When I hand it off and you're in the stands, you go, 'That looked OK.' That's pretty much what efficient running means.

"When you hand it off and it doesn't look good, that's not efficient. Ultimately, to try to objectively say you need to have this and need to have that, we don't do a lot of that. We just say, 'Yeah, we're running it OK,' or 'No, we're not.'"

That explanation is as simple as the rushing stats from Florida's last seven wins against Tennessee. The Vols have just 325 rushing yards in all seven games combined, which is only 70 more than the Gators had in their 59-20 thrashing of Tennessee in 2007. The Vols finished with negative yardage rushing twice (2011 and 2006), and Florida has averaged 154.7 rushing yards per game to Tennessee's 46.4 average.

Tennessee won the ground-game battle in its wins in 2003 and 2004, and 2002's meeting was the last in which the team that ran for less yards won the game.

"It's a real focus, just the run game and handling the line of scrimmage in general," center James Stone said. "That's their strength, and we have to make it our strength. We have to go against them and win the line of scrimmage in order to win this football game."

The strength of this Tennessee offense is the passing game, so the Vols don't need to run for 250 yards to score points and win games. The Vols are averaging nearly 100 yards more through two games than they did last year, and tailbacks Rajion Neal, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young are averaging more than four yards per carry. The efficiency is more of a situational number.

For example, four yards on first-and-10 qualifies as a win, as does two yards on third-and-1.

"It depends on the down [and] it depends on the distance," said running backs coach Jay Graham, the former Vol tailback who played in this series at the height of its national relevancy in the 1990s. "That's the key for us is running hard and making quick decisions at the line of scrimmage because you don't have much time and the creases are going to be small. We've done pretty well as far as efficiency when you look at the stats."

Tennessee must avoid negative- and zero-yardage plays and run the ball consistently enough against Florida's daunting front seven to keep its offense from becoming too one-dimensional.

"You don't want to put all the pressure on [quarterback Tyler] Bray and the wide receiver corps," tailback Devrin Young said. "Every team knows that's a point that we're really strong at, and we just want to take that pressure off them. If you want to beat a team like Florida, you've got to be sound all around."

Slant solution

Georgia State had success on slant patterns and crossing routes against Tennessee's defense last week, but the formula for fixing it is simple.

"We've just got to cover our guy better, have the right eye control, have the right technique and get down on our guys," cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. "[Georgia State] knew we played a lot of man-to-man going into the game, so the answer was to run quick crossing routes. We've got to do a better job of covering those guys a little bit better.

"It's really not an adjustment. It's all technique. You've just got to do a better job of covering your guy [because] it's man on man."

Extra points

Florida coach Will Muschamp said during Wednesday's Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference that tailback Mike Gillislee (groin) practiced Tuesday and "looked good." Muschamp also said freshman Antonio Morrison and sophomore Michael Taylor, a former Tennessee commitment, are rotating at the linebacker spot vacated by Jelani Jenkins (thumb).

Tennessee linebackers Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (turf toe) were less limited on Wednesday and even went through some contact drills. Neither is 100 percent, but both appear to be on track to play Saturday. How much linebacker Christian Harris (knee), receiver Alton Howard (foot) and tight end Brendan Downs (knee) will play is more uncertain.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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