Tennesseee football practice, Oct. 2, 2012
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley at the UT Quarterback Club
The linchpin, Dallas Thomas, is looking for Tennessee's offensive line to "keep clicking."
"We've just got to keep doing what we're doing," the Vols' senior tackle said Tuesday.
Good call. When ranked fourth nationally in sacks allowed (.40 per game), bye-week revisions aren't recommended.
UT averages more than 500 yards per game. Quarterback Tyler Bray's SEC-leading 329.2-yard passing average is a direct result of him having tons of time to find his mark. The running game, a work in progress that's found momentum, just galloped to nearly 200 yards against rival Georgia.
"We have a lot of talent and depth now," said left tackle Antonio Richardson. "Guys are going out there with the right mindset to work every day."
The results prove as much.
Having served as a backup last season, Richardson looks more comfortable every week.
Thomas and right tackle Ja'Wuan James each made their 30th career starts last weekend. Balanced on both sides of theball, they bring symmetry and skill.
Zach Fulton has started 20 straight games at right guard.
Finally, the name of starting center James Stone, maligned after last year's misadventure against Georgia, has rarely been mentioned this year — typically a good sign for an offensive lineman.
Through five games in 2011, the Vols allowed nine sacks and ranked 114th in the nation with 84.8 rushing yards per game.
This year? Four sacks and 177.4 yards per game.
"They were beat up last year, publicly, for our performance," said UT coach Derek Dooley. "It's really a focused group, a committed group and a talented group."
On the downside, UT's defense averages 1.2 sacks per game (100th nationally) and allows 187.8 rushing yards per game (92nd).
And No. 20 Mississippi State, the Vols' opponent on Oct. 13, averages 184.3 rushing yards per game.
Is anyone enjoying UT's offensive line as much as running back Rajion Neal? The junior has rushed for 342 yards during the past ast three games.
"The O-Line gave me opportunities, when I got to the open field I got my guys out there blocking and helping me," Neal said. "I am coming into my own a little bit and the guys have helped with that."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn