Tennessee's running game this season has been on the Scream Machine, Tennessee Tornado, Cannon Ball or whatever regional roller-coaster ride seems most appropriate.
The Volunteers opened Sept. 26 with an adequate 33-carry, 133-yard performance at South Carolina before erupting the following weekend, pounding Missouri for 232 yards on 51 rushes. Then came last Saturday at Georgia, when Tennessee netted minus-1 yard on 27 carries during the 44-21 loss to the Bulldogs.
Five sacks of Jarrett Guarantano certainly factored into Tennessee's total inside Sanford Stadium, but sophomore running back Eric Gray's 25 yards represented the team high.
"That's kind of how it goes sometimes," Gray said Tuesday afternoon on a Zoom call. "You've just got to keep going and keep working. It was a learning curve for everyone, and everyone has to look themselves in the mirror.
"I think we'll get back on track."
Gray had a 16-carry, 105-yard performance in the 35-12 win over Mizzou, and he would love to replicate that kind of showing Saturday when the No. 18 Vols host Kentucky. The Wildcats may not have as much NFL-bound talent defensively as Georgia, but they rank eighth nationally against the run, yielding just 83.3 ground yards per game.
Kentucky opened the season by limiting Auburn to 91 rushing yards in the 29-13 loss to the Tigers and last weekend held Mississippi State to 20 in the 24-2 win by the Wildcats.
GATORS ON HOLD
Florida’s football team had 19 positive COVID tests among its players this week and on Tuesday afternoon paused all activities.
“Head coach Dan Mullen has been in communication with football players and their parents, and I have had conversations with the Southeastern Conference office, last week’s opponent, Texas A&M, and this week’s opponent, LSU,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “These circumstances will be re-evaluated by UF Health and the athletic department’s sports medicine staff Wednesday.”
Tuesday’s pausing in Gainesville comes a day after this week’s Vanderbilt at Missouri game was postponed to Dec. 12 due to a significant spike among Commodores players.
— David Paschall
The Vols, of course, are working on the Vols this week, and there is no shortage of items that need addressing in regards to their ground attack. Tennessee third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt said that determining the opposing middle linebacker before the snap, a process that begins with center Brandon Kennedy through quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, was an issue against the Bulldogs.
"If you want to change the spot, you've got to make sure the running back knows," Pruitt said. "We've got to do a better job communicating that. It cost us on probably four plays in that game, and those were big plays.
"Also, I feel like they moved (up front defensively) based on something they had with our quarterback as far as the timing of the snap, so that's something that we need to fix."
The Vols also weren't at full strength up front offensively with Jerome Carvin, Jahmir Johnson and Riley Locklear banged up, but suffering a 27-0 second-half drubbing was a shared issue and an experience none of the components want to relive again this season.
"It's kind of hard when one aspect to the offense isn't clicking, and it makes it difficult for everything else to move forward the way it's supposed to," senior receiver Brandon Johnson said. "A lot of our mistakes were self-inflicted, but we're looking forward to going out and proving ourselves again."
Said Gray: "What happened last week is a big testament to Georgia. They have a great front seven, and, for the most part, they just outplayed us in the second half. I still believe our offensive line is one of the best offensive lines in the country, no matter what, and I definitely think we'll have some success running the ball."
Tennessee junior punter Paxton Brooks was named Tuesday as the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week for his performance at Georgia.
The 6-foot-6, 195-pounder from Lexington, South Carolina, averaged 47.2 yards on six punts. Brooks had two punts of 50-plus yards, including a 55-yarder.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.