KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley didn't have his weekly media luncheon Monday since the Volunteers have an open date this Saturday, but the University of Tennessee football coach did speak to the Knoxville Quarterback Club.
Dooley and his assistant coaches spent five hours Monday morning watching video of UT's rushing attempts to try to figure out how to improve the ground game. The Volunteers ran for minus-9 yards in their 33-23 loss at 15th-ranked Florida last Saturday and are averaging just 81.7 rushing yards a game, which ranks last in the Southeastern Conference and 105th in the NCAA bowl subdivision.
"There's a multitude of reasons why we're not running it well," Dooley said. "It starts with developing a good plan and staying patient from a coaching standpoint. Then it goes to the runners have got to play more physical. We're not running the ball well at running back, and we've got to be more physical up front and be a little more nasty."
Tailback Tauren Poole had 18 yards on nine carries Saturday, his lowest rushing total in 16 career starts. Dooley said Poole suffered a back injury early in the game that played a factor in his lack of production, but the senior didn't alert coaches or trainers until later.
"[Poole] tried to suck it up and just wasn't performing the way he needed to perform," Dooley said to the media following the speaking appearance. "He's got to communicate, when he's not feeling it, to us so we can put the other guy in."
The other guy, freshman Marlin Lane, finished with just 9 rushing yards on five attempts and is averaging 2.6 yards per carry through three games.
The running game becomes much more important with the season-ending injury to sophomore wide receiver Justin Hunter, Dooley said. Hunter's loss "shell-shocked" all the Vols including Dooley, who said he could've handled the situation better.
"I've got to admit, I was shaken," Dooley said. "When you go out there and you feel like you're really excited to see what your offense is going to look like against these guys and you lose your dynamic playmaker the fourth play, it's gut-wrenching. It's hard to just say move forward.
"I was probably as guilty as every player who got affected in some way early in the game, because you just invested so much and it's kind of taken away from you and you're got to figure out how to win the game. We'll be fine going forward. The hardest part is when it happens. It's just unfortunate it happened on the fourth play of the game."
Dooley said "it's too early to tell" how Hunter will come back from the torn ACL in his left knee, or if it will affect his track and field career, which could have included trying to qualify for the Olympics next summer.
"The important thing is how he handles it from an attitude standpoint and the investment he puts in in rehab," Dooley said. "You say is it tough? Yeah, it's very hard emotionally. This is a guy that was on pace to be a national leader in receptions, get a lot of awards and recognitions, and that's taken away from him. But that's part of the game, it's part of life and it will be up to him to deal with it."
'Hybrid guy' returns
Freshman Devrin Young is expected to be a full-go in practice this week. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Knoxville resident missed most of preseason camp after suffering a broken collarbone in August. He returned to contact in practice last week for the first time and simulated Florida's Chris Rainey on the scout team.
Dooley said Young is a "hybrid guy" who will play some at running back and in the slot as a receiver, as well as returning punts.
"It's not going to happen overnight, but hopefully he progresses in the next two weeks where we can put him in the game and see what he can do," Dooley said. "He's got really good ball judgment, so he can catch those punts pretty good. He's a natural and he has a lot of elusive ability."
Like camp again
Regardless of how UT played through the first three games, this week's open date allows coaches to re-evaluate players' performances and gives younger players a chance to get integrated more into the system.
"We'll have two practices just like training camp to try to get better fundamentally, schematically, all those things," Dooley said.
He specifically named three freshmen -- offensive tackle Antonio Richardson, guard Marcus Jackson and safety Brian Randolph -- among the younger players whose practice this week can be very important.
Odds and ends
Dooley said Matt Darr would handle the full-time punting duties after splitting them with place-kicker Michael Palardy. ... The Vols' home game against Buffalo on Oct. 1 will start at 12:30 p.m. and be televised by CSS, the SEC office announced Monday.
Staff writer Patrick Brown contributed to this story.
Contact Matt Dixon at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.