Tennessee's running game stumbles early

Tennessee running back Tauren Poole (28) is tackled for a safety by Montana defensive tackle Ben Hughes (98) in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee running back Tauren Poole (28) is tackled for a safety by Montana defensive tackle Ben Hughes (98) in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee's Marlin Lane (4) dives over the goal line as he's hit by Montana's Caleb Walden (40) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept 3, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 42-16. (AP Photo/Lisa Norman-Hudson)

Tennessee's Marlin Lane (4) dives over the goal line as he's hit by Montana's Caleb Walden (40) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept 3, 2011, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 42-16. (AP Photo/Lisa Norman-Hudson)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee finally has a full stable of talented running backs. That didn't quite translate into a good night of running in the Volunteers' season opener, though.

"What we have to do is turn that ability into production, and we haven't done that yet," coach Derek Dooley said. "It will come in time. We have to be patient. We act like our offensive line is the Green Bay Packers. These guys are four sophomores and a junior, and it's hard. It's hard to play up front. It takes time. It takes reps. They're going to be there, but I don't know when."

Tennessee's running game stumbled through a 42-16 win against the Football Championship Subdivision's Montana last Saturday. The Vols ran the ball 46 times for 128 yards and a meager 2.8-yards per attempt average compared to 311 yards by the air on 25 passes.

It was only a small step up from a season ago, when the Vols averaged 109.2 yards rushing per game behind an offensive line stocked with true freshmen.

Senior tailback Tauren Poole had a decent outing against the Grizzlies with 98 yards and a touchdown on 24 touches, a 4.1-yards-per-carry average, but Dooley didn't get the explosive plays on the ground that he hoped to see. Freshman Marlin Lane had 35 yards and a touchdown, and sophomore Rajion Neal and freshman Tom Smith combined for 13 yards playing with the second-string offense late in the game.

"They whipped us at the line of scrimmage the whole game," Dooley said. "They are a veteran team with some big, physical guys, and we did not run (the ball) the way it needed to be run."

Poole and Lane combined for three of Tennessee's six fumbles, all of which were recovered by the Vols. Poole also couldn't get out of the end zone when the Vols were lined up on their own 1-yard line and was dropped for a safety that cut Tennessee's lead to 28-9 in the third quarter.

Dooley and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney agree that the problems on the ground aren't because of lack of ability but rather inconsistent play and mental errors across the entire offense.

"Occasionally we would get a good push and maybe miss a read," Chaney said. "We'd get a good push and a good read and we'd mess up the perimeter blocking. I was thinking on Sunday I'd be able to come in here and yell at one segment of the offense. I was really disappointed. There wasn't one of them that did very good in the running game. The running backs, the o-line, tight ends, wideouts — it was a unanimous decision that everybody on any given play were making too many mistakes."

Junior tight end Mychal Rivera said it's just a matter of a little more effort on the part of him and his teammates.

"I feel we need to improve on our physicality up front," Rivera said. "The o-linemen and myself, tight ends, fullbacks, everybody needs to fire out and finish their blocks. That was one thing that we saw when we were evaluating film. The last two seconds of the play, if we strained just a little harder, I feel Tauren and Marlin and those guys could gain a few more yards."

On Saturday, the Vols host Cincinnati (1-0), a team that routed Austin Peay 72-10 in its season opener. The Bearcats defense was the least experienced among BCS teams a season ago, but the entire lineup has returned for the 2011 season.

Cincinnati coach Butch Jones knows the level of competition the Vols offer will be a step up from last week, even with an offense that's not fully developed.

"The speed of the game changes," Jones said. "The opponent changes, the level of competition. The speed level, everything now goes to the next level."

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Comments » 17

VolGrad writes:

Nothing like repackaging the old and calling it news.

CantStandCantStandSaban writes:

in response to VolGrad:

Nothing like repackaging the old and calling it news.

+1

MGVOL22 writes:

in response to CantStandCantStandSaban:

+1

Had to read your username twice....hilarious

VOLliven2it writes:

I will take 128 over the 109+ average from last year. It was the first game. Did we want them to do better? Yes we did. But they are young and I expect they will do much better this Sat. and will have to do better-better for us to compete in the SEC. But hey, we won and our passing game looked very good. Now coaches, let get the big up front uglies to GET ugly and prepared to go after some Bearcat. GO BIG ORANGE!

volinJC writes:

First time commenting...
I think Cincy is a huge game for the Vols, and will be a good barometer toward how the rest of the season goes. They say the biggest improvement in a FB team shows during their second game. The running game will be important but what I hope to see is improvement in all aspects. GO VOLS!!!

iadvol writes:

Remember UCLA 2 years ago?? That was painful beyond belief. We need to line up and crush these bearclowns.

CoverOrange writes:

Last year the offense had no experience. Over the season they performed poorly in the run game. This year they have lots of experience...in performing poorly. Should we expect that to change much? I'm not questioning the players, I'm questioning the coaches. OL is not the hardest position to learn.

Same thing with Cincy's defense. Last year they had no experience. This year they have a season's worth of bad experience. And defense is comparatively easy to learn.

CoverOrange writes:

"The Bearcats defense was the least experienced among BCS teams a season ago"

I love when writers throw out nuggets like that with no explanation of how that was measured.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

I have said the running game needs to improve in my previous posts this week. However, in that first game, even though it wasn't what we had expected, the run game WAS effective. We kept the ball more than Montana, rested the D and scored on big passing plays. To me, that game was a perfect example of how an EFFECTIVE running game translates to a win! Will it work in October?...Probably not in current form. But, it WAS effective Saturday!

hcjournals#206623 writes:

A lot of critiquing of people's posts going on....Who did what...You may remember my last post, etc....Please write what you want to and don't worry about your "body of work." Come on...No body is going to buy you a beer when you secretly tell them your handle on the strip before a game....The swamp rat is trying to keep up with his own schtick....I'm going to get in trouble for that one....I think Dewey likes my posts....................Out......

Tau_of_Tennessee writes:

in response to volinJC:

First time commenting...
I think Cincy is a huge game for the Vols, and will be a good barometer toward how the rest of the season goes. They say the biggest improvement in a FB team shows during their second game. The running game will be important but what I hope to see is improvement in all aspects. GO VOLS!!!

This is UC's second game also. They will be much improved.

jeremy writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

hahaha, I thought the same thing!! That is exactly what they implied.

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I would like to here CDD define time. This year, next year or when they are all seniors. I expect them to be dominate this Saturday and I have all the confidence that they will be. I get the feeling CDD is wasting to much time preparing VOL fans for negative results on the field.

UTByrd writes:

Montana's defense needs to be mentioned. They played their hind ends off. A veteran team that was set up to stop the run. They did a good job.
I don't know anything about Cincy's defense, but I believe UT will do much better in the run game.
Go VOLS!!!!!

VolAlum03ISBACK (Inactive) writes:

"Tennessee finally has a full stable of talented running backs"

Ummm...no we don't. We have depth at the position, but as for "talented"...I would disagree. We have a stable of mediocre running backs, but not "talented" ones. Granted, Poole would definitely be considered "talent" competing in the Big East, C.USA, or even the ACC, but this is the SEC. Big nasty D-linemen are the norm and the standard for a talented running back is a LOT higher than what UT has. Marline Lane has potential...but only just potential. After the first game, Poole looks like the guy that is going to be brought in when the air attack gets stifled.

Still...we could get by with the run game we have now if we had some kind of return game that allowed us to shorten the field and not have to take long passing risks.

Why we don't have a return game is beyond me? It isn't a secret problem. It was a problem going back to Fulmer. Maybe Dooley thinks he is prioritizing other things, but special teams is one of the most important aspects of any team. It deserves priority.

VolFanInMO writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

"The Bearcats defense was the least experienced among BCS teams a season ago"

I love when writers throw out nuggets like that with no explanation of how that was measured.

They're all virgins.

johnlg00 writes:

I was struck by Rivera's comment on not holding their blocks long enough. It may be something as simple as the fact that in the last week or two before the first game, the team usually doesn't go all out physically while they are tweaking the game plan and settling on personnel. In such a practice, as soon as everybody has a hat on somebody, the coaches blow the play dead; the blockers aren't even trying to drive their man down the field. Combine that with the long delay in starting the game, and the team just was not ready to go all out in that game. Maybe a young team can't just flip the switch as readily in such a situation as a more experienced one can. I think they will look a lot quicker and more aggressive this Saturday.

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