Tennessee's Ty Chandler avoiding lost-yardage stops, leads SEC in rushing

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee senior running back Ty Chandler leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing through two games and has yet to sustain a lost-yardage stop.

Tennessee senior running back Ty Chandler is leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing through two weekends despite failing to notch a 100-yard performance in victories over South Carolina and Missouri.

Of course, negative plays can factor into such totals as well.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder out of Nashville's Montgomery Bell Academy has carried 32 times for 176 yards for a robust average of 5.5 yards per rush. Not once in those 32 carries has Chandler endured a lost-yardage stop, a trait he hopes to continue this Saturday when the No. 14 Volunteers face No. 3 Georgia in Sanford Stadium.

"We definitely take pride in that - being able to get back to the line of scrimmage and getting more yards than what the play is blocked for," Chandler said Tuesday afternoon on a Zoom call. "That's what is preached to us every day, and that's what we try and do."

Tennessee's running backs didn't have a lost-yardage carry in last weekend's 35-12 thumping of Mizzou, as Chandler, sophomore Eric Gray and freshman Jabari Small combined on 39 rushes for 222 yards. Vols third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt said after the game that negative runs typically are the result of missed assignments and that running backs should always fall forward.

Pruitt felt like his rushers could have broken more arm tackles but was pleased they didn't get greedy.

"Sometimes a running back can get greedy and bounce things that he shouldn't or maybe make the wrong cut," Pruitt said. "Our guys are coachable, and they're trying to do the things we ask them to do."

Tennessee sixth-year senior center Brandon Kennedy said Tuesday that a game in which running backs stay clear of lost-yardage plays is something that is celebrated by everyone involved.

"That was great to see and very exciting," Kennedy said. "As an offensive line, any time you see the running back in front of you and hear the crowd cheering, it's great, but I also think we had some yards that we left out there. As an offensive line, we know we left some little things out there, so moving forward to this next game, we want to kind of pick up on those things and do better."

Chandler gained 86 yards on 13 carries at South Carolina and added 90 yards on 19 rushes last weekend, but he knows that Georgia will present a significantly stiffer challenge. The Bulldogs racked up six lost-yardage stops during Saturday's 27-6 drubbing of Auburn and held the Tigers to a paltry 39 yards on 22 carries.

Tennessee only rushed for 70 yards on 29 carries in last season's 43-14 loss to the Bulldogs in Neyland Stadium, a night in which Georgia's defense compiled 11 tackles for loss, including three sacks.

"They are very big up front," Kennedy said. "Their nose, Jordan Davis, is someone who uses his size to his advantage when he goes against blockers in the run game. Our biggest thing moving forward is being physical and executing at a high level."

Said Chandler: "We've got to accept the opportunity and get ready for it and just go seize the moment. They've got a great defense, but I'm looking forward to it, and I know the whole team is looking forward to it."

Chandler realizes that his blocking skills could be put to the test far more in this game compared to the first two but plans to be ready for that as well. Leading the league in rushing so far without a 100-yard game is a unique feat, but everything about this season is unique.

"It's a blessing," Chandler said when asked about topping SEC rushers through two weeks, "and I've got to thank God and give a big shout out to my mama and also a shout out to the offensive line. All those guys - Trey (Smith), Cade (Mays), Darnell (Wright), Jahmir (Johnson), BK (Kennedy) - all those guys.

"They're all doing a great job, and I just want to be able to give back to them and work for them like they work for me."

Meaningful flip

Kennedy was Tennessee's representative last Saturday at the coin toss before the Missouri game. The SEC is allowing just one player per team at midfield due to coronavirus-related concerns.

"It was very special to me, especially it being our first time back in Neyland after all that we went through," Kennedy said. "It was good that we at least had a certain amount of fans there, and it was just special to me."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.