Richardson helps out in goal-line set
By Austin Ward
Perhaps the biggest hole of the season really didn't even require a block to seal it.
The threat of one was enough.
After lining up as an extra fullback in Tennessee's goal-line package and then barreling toward the end zone as a personal escort against Vanderbilt last Saturday, Antonio Richardson's work was done pretty much before he could even make contact. Nobody seemed to have any interest in taking on the massive freshman with a head of steam, and with Tauren Poole skipping in for an easy touchdown, the Vols finally had a taste of how defenders might feel about dealing with Richardson as they prepare for a possible bowl-clinching trip to Kentucky on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.).
"Nobody wanted to come hit him," Poole said. "That was the biggest hole I've ever seen in my life. It was crazy. I was laughing and I said, 'We need to run that on third-and-1.'
"He was excited about it, you could see he was. He was smiling, just so happy that he was getting in the game, and he wanted to hit somebody. The guys just got out of the way."
Richardson might not have delivered as big of a blow as he wanted, but he certainly made his impact felt after the Vols (5-6, 1-6
SEC) found a way to turn him loose offensively and let him seek out a bit of contact.
Slowed initially by shoulder surgery that kept him out of most of training camp, the 6-foot-6, 325-pound lineman has been limited mostly to backup duty on the line throughout his first season with the program, and that still won't change against the Wildcats (4-7, 1-6). But that doesn't mean UT won't continue to put him to good use when the situation presents itself, and after making an impressive debut with his specialized role in the win last week against, it seems like a safe bet that Richardson could find himself in the backfield again soon.
"Oh, yeah, when I saw my man Tiny come in, I was too happy," left tackle Dallas Thomas said. "He came in, the huddle atmosphere got too hyped. He came in, we opened the hole up for him and he blew the linebacker up. (Poole) walked right on in.
"He just came through like a bulldozer, just plowed everything back. I love it — I hope we keep running it, too. It's just a big difference to have him back there and us in the front, it just opens up like the Red Sea parting."
Even without Richardson helping clear the way on the ground the Vols were having one of their better performances up front, with Poole complementing his short scoring rush with 107 yards to help provide more balance to the offensive attack. And with the push the starters were getting in the trenches, they might not have needed much more help to steer Poole into the end zone.
But UT has had occasional issues in short-yardage situations throughout the season, coming up short 10 times in 32 chances while facing third- or fourth-and-1 this year. Adding another oversized body to the equation certainly appeared to tilt the scales its way down by the goal line.
"I think the linebacker (Richardson) was going to block got a little scared of him and dived at his legs," center Alex Bullard said. "But I mean, that's just as good if you can get that guy on the ground, then that hole does open up. He said he was going to go blow somebody up on that play, and we said, 'Let's just see it, dog.' He went out there and competed, but the biggest thing was that it was just fun.
"We all had fun on that play — and we liked the result."