AP Top 25 College Football
Tennessee running back Marlin Lane remembers the number down to the decimal.
"We were almost last (in the SEC in rushing) last year and we didn't like that," the sophomore said Monday. "We averaged 90.1 yards per game."
After two games and 81 handoffs, the 23rd-ranked Vols (2-0) are averaging 187.5 yards on the ground, but 90 of UT's 375 rushing yards belong to wideout Cordarrelle Patterson.
The team's three-piece puzzle at running back of Lane, Rajion Neal, and Devrin Young, meanwhile, remains an enigma. None has emerged as a starter. Each has unique issues.
Nonetheless, Lane said the Vols' running back corp plans to deliver a message in UT's SEC opener against No. 18 Florida on Saturday.
"That we're going to lead the SEC in rushing this year, no doubt," Lane said.
Neal, who UT coach Derek Dooley said will start against the Gators, was not among the players made available to the media Monday. Asked if constant competition for carries among the running backs is a distraction, Young said, "It definitely can get frustrating at times. It's one of those things — at this level there's plenty of talent and plenty of talent to get the job done. You've just got to be one of those people."
Lane leads the running backs, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, but a fumble against Georgia State last week dampened his standing in the race for No. 1 ball carrier.
"I just had it in the wrong hand at the wrong time," Lane said.
Neal leads the Vols with three rushing touchdowns, but averages just 3.4 yards per touch.
Thus, with the showdown against Florida sitting firmly on the horizon, the puzzle remains unsolved.
"You just wait until your name is called, cause you never know who is going to go out there on Saturday and you never know who's going to end it," Lane said.
In season-opening wins over Bowling Green (27-14) and Texas A&M (20-17), Florida's run defense allowed a combined 235 yards on 65 carries, an average of 3.6 yards per carry.
Dooley, who has known Florida coach Will Muschamp since they shared positions on Nick Saban's staffs at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, said the second-year Gators coach has fully installed his style of play in Gainesville.
"They are a pro-style and they are multi-formational, so they are going to try and get you out-flanked, Dooley said. "That is his philosophy and they are starting to play Muschamp ball."
When a Georgia State kickoff landed in the hands of defensive end Daniel Hood late in the fourth quarter Saturday, the junior tucked it and took off.
"I just knew they were gonna squib it so I was excited," Hood said Monday. "I was supposed to pitch it back but no way I was letting that happen."
Hood now boasts a kickoff return average of 18.0 yards.
"I may get into the starting lineup for that," he said.
Dooley said freshman wideout Alton "Pig" Howard will be activated this weekend.