Wiedmer: Champions historically run football

Wiedmer: Champions historically run football

September 12th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Monsters.

That's what Georgia State coach Bill Curry called Tennessee's wide receivers last Saturday following the Volunteers' 51-13 victory. And he meant it as a compliment.

"They've got monsters on the outside," Curry said of wideouts Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Zach Rogers. "You put eight in the box to stop the run and those guys can kill you deep. Then you change to stop the pass and they can gash you running. That's a very good offense."

It's so good that UT is averaging a preposterous 354 passing yards a contest and more than 540 total yards. Quarterback Tyler Bray already has six touchdown throws, has given away no interceptions and is completing 74 percent of his passes.

So the argument has been made at least once (blush, blush) that all this concern about the Vols' somewhat suspect rushing attack is overrated. Especially since UT coach Derek Dooley correctly noted Monday that the Vols are averaging "about a football field longer" in rushing yardage than a year ago, when they mustered a league-worst 90 yards a game.

Even with that improvement, Dooley half-joked after the GSU win that on short-yardage situations, "Maybe we should just spread it out and throw it."

And maybe that's just what they'll do Saturday evening against No. 18 Florida. Just pass the ball in trying to pass the Vols' sternest test yet.

But at the risk of arguing against my own preference to see Bray throw it around 50 or so times a game, I'll drag out an old football coaching axiom originally attributed to former Texas coaching legend Darrell Royal.

"Three things can happen when you attempt a forward pass," Royal would grouse. "And two of them (an incompletion or interception) are bad."

Even the most conservative of football coaches might argue that a talent such as Bray might have altered Royal's view of things. UT hasn't had a quarterback as gifted as the lanky junior since Peyton Manning graduated 15 years ago. Some might even argue that when it comes to passing only -- the simple art of throwing the ball -- Bray may even be better than Manning.

Not a better quarterback, mind you. Certainly not a smarter QB. Just an ever-so-slightly more talented pure passer.

Nor did Manning necessarily have a singular talent to throw to the equal of Patterson -- of whom Curry said, "There was shock and awe at the speed of [him]" -- and Hunter, who caught three TD passes against GSU.

Only time will tell, but Patterson and Hunter could both wind up being better than Manning's preferred targets Joey Kent, Marcus Nash and Peerless Price.

Yet before the whole Big Orange Nation goes pass happy, here's a trivia question:

Other than the fact they both hailed from the state of Alabama, what did the last two BCS national champions have in common?

Answer: Both Auburn (2010) and Alabama (last year) led the SEC in rushing in their championship seasons. Just to prove those weren't flukes, Tennessee (1998) and Florida (2008) also did it on their way to national crowns.

Maybe that's why UT running back Marlin Lane said Monday, "We're going to lead the SEC in rushing this year, no doubt."

Maybe that's why Dooley continues to harp on the necessity for Big Orange improvement in that area.

Also, just for comparison's sake, Florida's 1996 Gators are the only team to lead the SEC in passing in the year it won a national title, and that was before the BCS arrived. Even that season, Steve Spurrier's champs averaged 170 yards on the ground.

No wonder New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- who knows a thing or two about championships, having won three Super Bowls -- said after Sunday's road rout of the Tennessee Titans: "The toughness of your team is built around running the ball and stopping the run."

So as enjoyable as the Vols' aerial circus may be to watch, history strongly suggests that for UT to truly have a monster season, it must be able to run the football when it matters most, beginning Saturday evening against the Gators.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.