KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Volunteers have the fourth-most rushing yards (1,808) and yards per game (226) along with the second-most rushing touchdowns (20) in the SEC so far, and that’s due to the rotation of running backs, accompanied with the legs of their quarterback.
The Vols have created explosive plays in the passing game this season behind the arm of Hendon Hooker. He’s been completing the deep ball with Javonta Payton and Cedric Tillman, but offensive coordinator Alex Golesh said if they want to have ultimate success on Saturdays, it starts with the run, which they’ve struggled with recently.
Three Vols rushers are among the top 20 in rushing in the SEC, Tiyon Evans leads the way at number 11 with 516 rushing yards followed by Hooker with 416 and Jabari Small with 332. Evans is third in yards per carry and holds the second-longest run at 92 yards.
The Crimson Tide limited the Vols to just 65 rushing yards in their last game — which is the first time all season they’ve been held under 100 yards rushing. Tennessee has been dealing with injuries across the board, but especially on the offensive line and running back group. Golesh said their biggest hurdle has been navigating the lack of depth in both position groups, especially at running back. Which puts more pressure on Hooker to run the ball.
“The running back spot has been really frustrating at times, being so limited with who you have back there it’s been tough. We’ve put a lot on Hendon in those situations to run the football and have had to be creative, more creative than I’ve ever been to have people banged up and still being able to run the football.”
Tennessee’s bye week came at a good time splitting up their four toughest matchups of the season against top 25 SEC opponents, allowing them to rehab some of those injuries. Heading into Lexington, Golesh said he feels they’re back to healthy at running back and on the offensive line following the break.
They’re going to have their best chance to run the football down the stretch as long as they can stay healthy. Tennessee will look to get that run game going against Kentucky’s stout defense — kick off is at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN2.