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Tennessee's Jalen Hurd (1) goes for yardage in to the Florida secondary. The Florida Gators visited the Tennessee Volunteers in a important SEC football contest at Neyland Stadium on September 24, 2016.
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Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd is hit in the backfield for a loss by Florida's Caleb Brantley during Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium. Hurd hasn't always had plenty of room to run during the first four games of this season, but he often has found a way to keep moving and earn tough yards after contact.
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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will enter October as the eighth-leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference.

The burly running back likely ranks higher in yards after contact, though.

An unsettled offensive line meant Hurd had to work extra hard for most of his production in the first four games of the season, but the Volunteers have no reason to worry about the powerful junior.

"Having a back like Jalen is amazing," center Dylan Wiesman said Monday. "He's a tank. He can take a hit and just keep on going. I wouldn't want to tackle him. He's playing lights out, and he's just going to keep that up."

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Hurd totaled 365 yards in the first four games. He rushed for 110 yards against Appalachian State in the opener and narrowly missed the century mark against Virginia Tech (99) and Florida (95). He's averaging 4.0 yards per carry after averaging 4.7 and 4.6 in the first two years of his Vols career.

He continues to be Tennessee's workhorse, racking up 22 or more carries three times this month while recording only one run of more than 20 yards, a 28-yard scamper against Ohio that nearly was a 2-yard loss.

"That's his game," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "He's a physical style of runner he's been great with that. We've needed that. Jalen's done a great job.

"Some of his best runs have been his dirtiest runs in terms of getting the dirty yards, the yards after first initial contact, where he's able to get a 1-yard gain or a 0-yard gain or a 2-yard gain. Those have been great runs for us."

Tuttle's revenge?

Tennessee fans certainly remember what was perceived as a dirty block by Georgia center Brandon Kublanow on then-freshman defensive tackle Shy Tuttle in last year's meeting. Though Tuttle, who suffered a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments on the play, has returned from his season-ending injury and resumed playing well, his teammates likely haven't forgotten either.

Jones recently said it was "unacceptable" Tuttle was hurt, but on Monday he tried to downplay the sophomore or his defensive teammates coming into the rematch with Kublanow and the Bulldogs with extra motivation.

"It's unfortunate that that happened, but Shy has recovered from it," he said. "You can't focus on that. You have to focus on the task at hand and winning your one-on-one matchup and your preparation. I don't even think he's thinking about that, and neither are we. It's a new game, it's a new season, it's a new opportunity.

"I don't see that even entering into the thought process."

Deep-ball defense

The past two games have exposed a potential weakness in Tennessee's defense.

The Vols surrendered a handful of long completions on deep balls against single coverage against their cornerbacks. Ohio picked on Emmanuel Moseley and completed three passes of 29 or more yards. Florida picked on Justin Martin and Baylen Buchanan for three more plays of 36 or more yards.

Now Tennessee must contend with Jacob Eason, Georgia's big-armed freshman quarterback, and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who likes to go to the vertical passing game.

"We had three snaps that accounted for 130 yards of Florida's total offense, and big pass plays are momentum killers," Jones said. "We have to do a better job of winning at the line of scrimmage and finding the ball in the blind spot and winning our one-on-one matchups."

Typical Georgia

The Bulldogs may have a new coaching staff led by former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, but the Vols aren't expecting to see an entirely different team in Athens, particularly on offense.

"With Georgia, you know they're going to be big up front and physical," linebacker Colton Jumper said. "You know they're going to have skill on the outside. Their running backs are always really good, but their quarterback (is) a big, tall guy that can throw the ball a mile.

"It's definitely going to challenge our secondary and our linebackers, but I think our D-line, if we can get after them, that just helps everybody, which we did a good job of (against Florida)."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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