GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Montario Hardesty finished the fourth quarter looking like he was in the first.
Even better for the Tennessee backfield, by the end of the game Bryce Brown no longer looked like he did at the start.
It might be expecting a lot for the senior and true freshman to become interchangeable parts in the UT backfield, but if Brown can't quite carry the load on every down like the veteran Hardesty yet, they at least proved late in Saturday's 23-13 loss at No. 1 Florida the load is lighter when shared.
Hardesty's and Brown's next chance to share the load is Saturday when Ohio University (2-1) visits UT (1-2) at Neyland Stadium. The 7 p.m. kickoff is pay-per-view.
"You know, it's always good to have a guy that can come in and also play and there really not be too much of a drop in the game," Hardesty said. "I think our identity is when we have our (offensive) line getting out and getting moving on their man and getting assignments perfect, we are definitely a physical running team and that's something we can do good.
"It definitely wasn't a surprise running the ball because that's what we do on this team."
For a while it looked like Hardesty would have to do it by himself against the tenacious Gators.
Brown appeared uncertain of his cuts and how to attack early in his first road game, and Florida took advantage while holding him to 7 yards on four carries.
He just missed a big gain by not picking up his feet in the hole, misread another and then just couldn't find a gap later on UT's first scoring drive.
He picked up 10 yards on a second-quarter catch, but Brown didn't really look like the dynamic player the Vols expect him to be until midway through the fourth, teaming with Hardesty for every positive yard they picked up other than a penalty.
Brown piled up 24 yards on two quick catches, bulled his way for 16 yards on a couple carries and then gave way for Hardesty's impressive 17-yard touchdown that quieted a record crowd at The Swamp.
"We have some good running backs, and when those guys get their hands on the ball they're capable of making things happen," left tackle Chris Scott said. "If the line executes like their supposed to, they can do some big things.
"We knew if we executed, we could go down and score. That's the big thing for us because we know the capability of this offense and the things we can do with this offense. We knew what we could do, and we've seen how successful this offense can be. We just have to keep executing."
The Vols weren't able to do it for a full 60 minutes, and that will continue to be difficult without any semblance of a passing threat.
But it should help to at least have more than one option on the ground.
"We're going to correct our mistakes and get ready for the next game," Hardesty said. "We're going to continue to build because there were some things we can build on.
"This didn't surprise me at all. We have five seniors up front pretty much, so we definitely have guys that can do it. We believe in ourselves and the plan that our coaches gave us, and we just have to go out and execute it. There were some times when we didn't execute the plan, which is what you saw in the third quarter. That's something we can prevent."
There's not much they can do to stop growing pains or fatigue from having to carry the offense.
But Brown is working his way through the former, and Hardesty should have help with the latter - if he needs it.
"I don't know if (Brown) kept me fresh or not, but there's no thought going through my mind of being tired - ever," Hardesty said. "I'm a senior, I don't have any time to be tired now, man."
Brown could buy him some if it happens, though.