Vols' Rajion Neal bursts past 1,000-yard mark

Vols' Rajion Neal bursts past 1,000-yard mark

December 1st, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee running back Rajion Neal (20) takes the handoff from quarterback Joshua Dobbs (11) in their NCAA football game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Tennessee won 27-14.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Rajion Neal achieved one of his season goals Saturday night.

Tennessee's senior tailback did it in style, too.

On the second play of the Volunteers' comfortable win at Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium, Neal scored on a 60-yard touchdown sprint and cracked the 1,000-yard mark in the process.

The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder needed just 10 yards entering the season finale against the Wildcats to become Tennessee's first 1,000-yard rusher since Tauren Poole in 2010. The score was Neal's 12th of the season. He finished with 134 yards on 20 carries as the Vols finished with 218 yards on the ground -- his fifth 100-yard game of the 2013 season.

Since running for 8 yards on eight carries in Tennessee's 31-3 loss at Missouri to start November, Neal ran for 124 yards against Auburn and 95 against Vanderbilt last week. He became the 14th player in program history to run for 2,000 yards in a career in the 14-10 loss to the Commodores.

As a freshman in 2010, Neal bounced in and out of the lineup and finished with 197 yards on 46 carries. He played receiver as a sophomore and actually caught a 53-yard touchdown pass in Tennessee's 2011 visit to Lexington. Neal ran for 708 yards and scored five rushing touchdowns last season, when he missed two full games and parts of two others with an ankle injury.

Tennessee, which entered the game with 2,043 rushing yards on the season, registered the program's second-highest yardage total on the ground since 2000. The 2004 team ran for 2,418 yards in 14 games.

Receiver reserves

Tennessee freshman receiver Marquez North did not make the trip after suffering a high ankle sprain that knocked him out of the Vanderbilt game in the first quarter.

Jason Croom and Pig Howard, normally the Vols' slot receiver, started on the outside with Johnathon Johnson starting in the slot. Croom, a redshirt freshman, hauled in a bobbled pass for a 43-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 31-yarder on a key third down in the second quarter.

He was injured on the play, though, and returned out of the locker room in the second half in warmups with a sling on his right arm.

Devrin Young got more reps on offense, too, and caught a third-quarter touchdown pass in addition to making two nice kickoff returns. His 37-yard return on the opening kick set up Neal's big run, and the junior from Knoxville took one 30 yards following the Wildcats' first touchdown.

Tackling machine

In what could have been his final collegiate game, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson finished with nine tackles and broke the 100-tackle mark for the second consecutive season. The junior led the SEC with 138 stops last season and entered Saturday night's game with a team-leading 97 tackles. Johnson also led the Vols with 7.5 tackles for loss.

He is the first Tennessee defender to register consecutive 100-tackle seasons since Earnest Fields in 1990-91.

According to CBSSports.com, Johnson is the No. 2 inside linebacker prospect for next April's NFL draft, and the 6-foot-2, 245-pound former four-star recruit will have a decision to make -- jump to the draft or return for his senior season -- now that the season is complete.

James set mark

With his 49th career start, Tennessee right tackle Ja'Wuan James set the record for most career starts by an offensive lineman Saturday night. The senior, who's started every game of his career, surpassed the mark previously set by Jeff Smith, a Meigs County High School graduated who started 48 Vols games from 1992 to '95.

James, who arrived on campus in Knoxville while Lane Kiffin was still Tennessee's coach, got the chance to speak with Smith, an All-SEC selection in 1993 and 1995, after the Vanderbilt game last week after tying the mark. Smith was a seventh-round pick in the 1996 NFL draft and spent seven seasons in the NFL with three teams.

Dobbs' long run

Freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs' 40-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the longest by a Tennessee quarterback in 15 years.

It was the longest since Tee Martin's 55-yard dash against Syracuse in the 1998 season opener, the first game of the Vols' march to the national championship that season. Dobbs' scoring run was the longest touchdown run by a Vols quarterback since Alan Cockrell's 43-yard score against LSU in 1983.

In his fourth start, Dobbs, who had a 33-yard run at Missouri and a 32-yard run against Auburn, finished the first half with 54 yards on four carries, though he didn't look 100 percent when he ran, showed a bit of hitch in his stride and wore a black sleeve on his right lower leg.

Extra points

Tennessee's captains for the game were defensive lineman Daniel Hood, linebacker Dontavis Sapp, right guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone. ... The Vols' opening-drive touchdown was their first since taking the season's opening drive for a touchdown against Austin Peay. Tennessee kicked a field goal on its first drive against Auburn. ... Derrick Ansley, Tennessee's cornerbacks coach last season, is now on staff at Kentucky in the same role.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com