Mike Strange: Even Tyler Bray votes for Vols to run the ball against Florida

Mike Strange
AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal carries the ball against Georgia State at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal carries the ball against Georgia State at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

When Derek Dooley talks about his offseason soul-searching and decision to speed up the tempo, my first image is Tyler Bray slinging pass after pass to speedy Tennessee receivers.

But that's not the whole picture. Playing fast means running the ball fast, too.

And the young season's biggest test arrives Saturday in the person of the dreaded Florida Gator defense.

Dreaded? Yes, dreaded. Reviewing UT's seven-year losing streak to the Gators uncovers some ugly rushing totals.

On Dooley's watch, there is 29 yards (2010) and minus-9 (2011).

Those are real numbers, too. Think Fahrenheit, not Celsius.

An annual September ritual during Florida week is reciting the warning that the team that wins the rushing battle almost certainly wins the game.

The stat is so reliable it's under review to become the eighth maxim.

Therefore, I pose two questions:

One, what exactly is the state of the rushing game at this ascending moment for the program?

Two, given the production of Bray and his receivers, does it really matter if the Vols can run or not? Is slamming into the line just a waste of time?

First, Bray will answer question number two.

"We're always going to need the run game,'' he said this week, "because we have play-action passes.

"If you just throw, throw, throw, the play-action doesn't do anything.''

Really? You can see a difference in how defenses react to play-action if you don't show some run?

"Oh, yeah,'' said Bray. "You can tell a big difference.''

As for the first question, there is good news and bad news.

The Vols, probably for a variety of reasons, still struggle to convert short-yardage situations. And that's a handicap for any team, any season.

On the other hand, there is bottom-line progress.

After two games in 2011, Tennessee averaged 127 yards a game and 3.1 yards per carry. This year after two games, the numbers are 187.5 yards and 4.63 per carry.

"We're running about a football field more than we did last year at this point,'' Dooley said.

"Of course, we haven't gone against this league. So this will be a good test for us.''

Florida's front seven is formidable, even without injured linebacker Jelani Jenkins. The Gators stonewalled Texas A&M in the second half last week.

Tennessee's forte is throwing the ball. But as a skillful passer named Bray said, mixing in yardage on the ground makes the machine run smoother.

None of UT's running backs has made anyone for

get Jamal Lewis or even Montario Hardesty. No one expects a night like Travis Stephens popped on the Gators in 2001.

Whether it's Rajion Neal, Marlin Lane, Devrin Young or even Quenshaun Watson, the only shot at success Saturday night is being decisive.

"It is important that these backs hit the holes fast,'' said Dooley, "because if you dance around on these guys, it's negative two.''

Negative two. The Vols have been there, done that. I don't recommend it if you want to remember what it feels like to beat Florida.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 43

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

FROM A VEGAS SPORTS BOOK:

Prediction – This CFB betting pick all comes down to the passing game, and we do not think there is a defense in the East Division that can stop Bray and his great receivers, while Driskel should struggle again vs. a stiff Volunteers’ defense. Look for Tennessee come up with the big plays when needed and move on to the home win and cover.

windy writes:

Run the ball and set up the pass. Vols win.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yeah, but we don't play Georgia for a few more weeks.

PUL4VOLS writes:

The Vols need to run the ball. But they need to not let that get into their heads so that they do not throw as they are able. It is a combination. I think it will be very exciting. GO VOLS!

Orangeblood13 writes:

might help if Chaney quit trying to be cute. I formation or 2 tight end it and run the ball.

Challenge our young men to bust em in the mouth

Richmonds_Wannabe_Brother writes:

Despite the excitement of the passing game, let's not lose track of the fact that the Vols' offense has run the ball more times than they've thrown it. 81 runs to 69 passes. The running game only needs to be a threat that keeps the defense honest, and that doesn't mean they have to average a bazillion yards/carry. It just means that they run the ball often enough and just well enough that the defense can't ignore it, or it will bite them. There's no reason the passing game can't stay the bread and butter of this offense. Even a Manning-lead offense (at Indy or at Denver) still runs the ball about 50% of the time.

Snapshot writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What does someone from Green Bay like you know about SEC football?

Snapshot writes:

We can pass for 300 yd. and not be able to run and lose.
Rush for 150 yd. or more and get a comfortable win.

Vols 31

lizards 13

GreerVol22 writes:

in response to Snapshot:

We can pass for 300 yd. and not be able to run and lose.
Rush for 150 yd. or more and get a comfortable win.

Vols 31

lizards 13

yep, agree. Even if Bray throws like Manning and we end the night with 40 yards rushing I think we lose. Someone said don't get cute or they will make us pay. Stay focused and physical and we'll be fine.

abnerPeabody writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You are right. It will be a couple of weeks more before he does.

There you go. The attention you so desperately seek.Do you feel better about yourself now?

Your intelligence never ceases to amaze.

dragon18 writes:

Here's the thing... Tennessee does not need to rush for more yards than Florida to win this game! They never have had to rush for more yards than Florida to beat them. That Stat about the "team that has rushed for more yards wins", is more indicative of the style of play Florida has employed after UT has made several costly mistakes to find themselves multiple scores behind coupled with the fact that to play catch up, you typically have to rely more on the pass. UT will not outrush Florida this week either. But they will not need to, as long as they don't give up a huge play on special teams and/or provide Florida with costly turnovers. I do believe UT will need to run for at least 100 yards though. You don't want the Florida athletes on the line to pin their ears back and just run at Bray all day. To me this series has been much more about mistakes and disciplined football than rushing yards.

UT- 38
UF- 24

Volunteer-Varmint writes:

Our only risk factor is our kickers. I think they have coverage and return down well enough to win this game; however, if we can't hit a PAT or a FG or put punts inside the 20 we can't control line of scrimage. Our STs have to show up. I still think Sheriff Bray will skin the lizards for us fans to have fried gator after the game. Wish I could be there for this game but I'll just have to punch holes in the ceiling of my RV down here in Texas. Go Vols! An entire fighter squadron is cheering you on. (Well, most of us anyway)

VolDoginFl writes:

Over 100 yards rushing = win, less than 100 = loss. Proof is in the history of this game. Also, the Vols really have to figure out how to gain a first down on 3rd and 4th and 1.

voloffaith writes:

in response to Volunteer-Varmint:

Our only risk factor is our kickers. I think they have coverage and return down well enough to win this game; however, if we can't hit a PAT or a FG or put punts inside the 20 we can't control line of scrimage. Our STs have to show up. I still think Sheriff Bray will skin the lizards for us fans to have fried gator after the game. Wish I could be there for this game but I'll just have to punch holes in the ceiling of my RV down here in Texas. Go Vols! An entire fighter squadron is cheering you on. (Well, most of us anyway)

Will they sing 'Rocky Top'with you? Thanks for your service to our country!!

volfanlostnbama writes:

I have a sense that Young & Watson are going to play a key role in this game...especially Watson, he will break out with some key runs to bust the cycle of TN running woes with the Lizards!

CrankE writes:

in response to dragon18:

Here's the thing... Tennessee does not need to rush for more yards than Florida to win this game! They never have had to rush for more yards than Florida to beat them. That Stat about the "team that has rushed for more yards wins", is more indicative of the style of play Florida has employed after UT has made several costly mistakes to find themselves multiple scores behind coupled with the fact that to play catch up, you typically have to rely more on the pass. UT will not outrush Florida this week either. But they will not need to, as long as they don't give up a huge play on special teams and/or provide Florida with costly turnovers. I do believe UT will need to run for at least 100 yards though. You don't want the Florida athletes on the line to pin their ears back and just run at Bray all day. To me this series has been much more about mistakes and disciplined football than rushing yards.

UT- 38
UF- 24

Amen.

Florida always charges out of the gate against Tennessee. The Vols by contrast typically get productive once they are down by 10-14 points. This requires them to attempt the higher risk plays for the rest of the game. At this point, all Florida has to do is play the percentages that mistakes will happen and that they can get a few to break their way so as to extend or at least maintain their lead. The rushing disparity is not the cause of that initial surge, it is the EFFECT of that surge.

It's the same recipe every single year regardless of coaches or players. I can't be the only one who has picked up on this in the last 20 years, right?

With that in mind, the Volunteer Nation wonders when Tennessee will make the commitment to do what is necessary to win this game. Strike first, get defensive stops early. Match the initial surge out of the gate and maintain that intensity for the entire game.

Is this the year?

Tennessee has no excuses. None.

GO VOLS!!
CHOOT 'EM!!

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

"Dreaded Florida defense?" Bowling Green didn't find it so dreaded.

Media loves to pump them up, just as kids/trolls such as this "Titleton" clamors to do. Play the game, and it'll be clear to everyone soon enough.

Go Vols..........do your thing.

Volunteer-Varmint writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Will they sing 'Rocky Top'with you? Thanks for your service to our country!!

Thanks for your service comment V4J, it means a lot to those of us still in the field or stateside.

Most of the guys here in Ft Worth are TCU or TX A&M fans and just want TN to whip the snot out of floriduh.

If I have to, I'll teach em the words. I just hope the Pride of the Southland Band in honor of my late sister (UT 1978 clarinet) plays Rocky Top so much that their lips bleed. They won't care about the pain. GBO!!!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Running out of a one back,shot gun formation will produce exactly what it did last year...Squat!! Gators front 4 is just to good..But running the offense out of a 2 back set will make the offense as a whole much better..Chaney is stubborn and he tips his hat in the pistol format which is what Muschamp is game planning for.. A 2 back set will keep the defense more off balance not knowing if it's run or pass..Much of the game is riding on Chaney's play calling and IMO he should have been fired 2 years ago because he's just too predictable and his idea of a halftime adjustment is to put Bray in the shotgun and pray he can hit a long ball!!Also an up tempo game can be a 2 edge sword..When it's getting first downs; it's genius.When it's not all your doing is giving the opponent extra possessions.Hopefully Chaney has learned his lessons!!

jakethevolguy writes:

The team that scores more points wins!! GBO!!
Vols - 42
Lizzards - 28

Ayres_Hall writes:

in response to volfanlostnbama:

I have a sense that Young & Watson are going to play a key role in this game...especially Watson, he will break out with some key runs to bust the cycle of TN running woes with the Lizards!

Young will get a few snaps at RB. Watson won't play at all.

This is big boy football played by upper classmen. We'll need the OL and the RB's in their big boy pants.

voloffaith writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Hey Merl ot ya saying? You are jealous of those who are more accurate in their predictions than ewe?
Yes we know...fan of VOLS you are not...nester of negativity....

TO Varmint in TX sorry about late sister....my dad played clarinet in the Pride back in his college days...then my daughter played in her HS band on a clarinet 50+ yrs old.....Thanks again to you and your team in serving our great country in spite of what the apologists say....

pcorange writes:

Hoping for a change of luck in this series. We are the better team this year, but we've been the better team several times the last 20 years and still lost. Physically, we can handle them. Mentally, we'd better be ready.

kevininaugustageorgia writes:

I figured there were still a few absolute die-hard trolls hanging out over here.

Actually, I'm surprised to see this many. But, hang in and get every drop out of it you can.

Get your last shots in about "Dooley can't beat a winner, Dooley's record in Knoxville, etc."

Your gonna need to be much more clever to troll on UT after 2011.

They will give you a few more opportunities this year but not many.

Enjoy while you can!

PS - There may be some spots opening up on the Florida boards. We'll know for sure in about 2 months...

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

You Tennessee fans who can make it to the game, enjoy yourselves. Don't pay any attention to the whiny troll, Merlot/AA.

He attempts to throw a damper on everything but fails. Just a glorified troll as we well know.

Stooley_Dinks writes:

Ultimately, the total rushing yards won't matter. It is when and where we get them. An average of 2 yds a carry will be good enough if we can get those 2yds on 3rd and short or near the goal line.

And some of the horrible rushing stats of the past are affected by sacks. So, avoid sacks and RB's breaking wide to lose 2 instead of make 0, and 60 - 80 yards will be enough.

hikerdude writes:

I doubt we rush for 50 yards. Just don't have the backs or the O-line to do it. UF 28 UT 21. Hope I'm wrong.

oldvol59 writes:

in response to hikerdude:

I doubt we rush for 50 yards. Just don't have the backs or the O-line to do it. UF 28 UT 21. Hope I'm wrong.

No doubt about it, you are wrong. It will be close, but with TN at home they win. Of course I have been pulling for them to win since the 1950's and have never predicted they would lose. I have been quiet before, but never predicted a loss. That just doesn't seem like something a fan would do.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Running out of a one back,shot gun formation will produce exactly what it did last year...Squat!! Gators front 4 is just to good..But running the offense out of a 2 back set will make the offense as a whole much better..Chaney is stubborn and he tips his hat in the pistol format which is what Muschamp is game planning for.. A 2 back set will keep the defense more off balance not knowing if it's run or pass..Much of the game is riding on Chaney's play calling and IMO he should have been fired 2 years ago because he's just too predictable and his idea of a halftime adjustment is to put Bray in the shotgun and pray he can hit a long ball!!Also an up tempo game can be a 2 edge sword..When it's getting first downs; it's genius.When it's not all your doing is giving the opponent extra possessions.Hopefully Chaney has learned his lessons!!

Agree with you, lickn, about Chaney's play calling predictability and have commented on it several times myself. But CrankE made a great observation about the necessity to abandon a predetermined gameplan because the Vols are so often in the position of having to play catch up in this series. How many times have we as fans approached this game with such high hopes only to witness a gridiron version of a Keystone Cops movie? (That may be an antiquated reference for a lot of posters.) It seems as if in this series more than any other, that the Vols somehow manage to demonstrate once again the maxim of Murphy's Law: if something can go wrong, it will. In one of the few instances in recent years when the BO actually outplayed the Gators, and in Neyland, nonetheless, Fla left town with the W compliments of a last minute phantom td reception. Even though I am not brimming with the confidence I felt the year Peyton led the screeching halt to the Ala streak, I would still like nothing more than to see the Vols take charge from the outset and keep the pedal to the metal the entire 60 mins. I don't believe in spiking the ball prematurely, and I've never been one to spike it after the fact, but it sure would be nice to serve some crow rather than eat it after 7 long years. I predicted the Gators last year; I'm going with the Vols by at least 7. It's time the drought ended.

rbwtn writes:

I have to say I was impressed with Florida against A&M and I was really pulling for Florida Only because of the Talk from A&M and Missouri . I wanted them to see as I wish the rest of the Nation would understand that the SEC football isn't like the other conferences. Anyway WE must run the ball against Florida if we do Tyler will have a Field Day!

rbwtn writes:

How many times have I seen an inexperienced TN running back going around the end and before they get there they turn up the Middle and loose yardage. It's something you learn fast in College however I don't know if we got it yet. We'll see.

lstbodeanvol writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

ttz aka as zooker's brother..go iron your jorts ,comb the mullet and get ready to hear Rocky top all day instead of your barney theme song !!! GO VOLS !!!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to CrankE:

Amen.

Florida always charges out of the gate against Tennessee. The Vols by contrast typically get productive once they are down by 10-14 points. This requires them to attempt the higher risk plays for the rest of the game. At this point, all Florida has to do is play the percentages that mistakes will happen and that they can get a few to break their way so as to extend or at least maintain their lead. The rushing disparity is not the cause of that initial surge, it is the EFFECT of that surge.

It's the same recipe every single year regardless of coaches or players. I can't be the only one who has picked up on this in the last 20 years, right?

With that in mind, the Volunteer Nation wonders when Tennessee will make the commitment to do what is necessary to win this game. Strike first, get defensive stops early. Match the initial surge out of the gate and maintain that intensity for the entire game.

Is this the year?

Tennessee has no excuses. None.

GO VOLS!!
CHOOT 'EM!!

Good post. Your best point is that in this series, especially under Spurrier and Meyer, Florida piles up most of their advantage in rushing yardage AFTER they have established a lead with the passing game, ST, and defensive scores. Once they get the lead, the Vols have always felt that they MUST throw the ball, FU knows that, and the pass rush, undeterred by the running threat, swarms all over the Vol QBs. One exception to this scenario occurred several years ago when the Vols started the game in a nickel package to better protect against the pass, whereupon the Gators ran the ball for about their first dozen plays and marched right down the field.

I think I might start the game, depending on field position to some extent, with at least two receivers on fly patterns. Hit it or miss it, the mere attempt will make the Gator LBs play a little looser and maybe give the Vol RBs a little more running room.

On the plus side for the Vols in this one, there are no kick returners I have seen of the caliber of such as James, Harvin, Demps, and Rainey. The Gators have clearly NOT established a reliable passing game of their own so far. I think the Vols should concentrate on stopping the run game and force FU to throw it. If the game becomes an all-out air battle, the Vols win big.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to rbwtn:

How many times have I seen an inexperienced TN running back going around the end and before they get there they turn up the Middle and loose yardage. It's something you learn fast in College however I don't know if we got it yet. We'll see.

Good point. It is just a matter of complete indecisiveness on the part of Vol RBs lately. I have seen several instances where a back bounces the run outside, when it was supposed to go up the middle, start out to turn the corner, and then, when he had just one more driving step to get around the end, just plant the foot and try to go straight, only to get blasted for a loss.

Whatever you decide to do on a play, Vol RBs, do it DECISIVELY! Do it HARD even if it is wrong! PUNISH those DBs who try to cut you off! DON'T GIVE UP SO EASILY! Even fairly little guys like Young and Watson can deliver a blow if they are squared up with pads low and driving forward. An RB just CAN'T run with fear; make THEM fear tackling YOU.

Olddogsrule writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Running out of a one back,shot gun formation will produce exactly what it did last year...Squat!! Gators front 4 is just to good..But running the offense out of a 2 back set will make the offense as a whole much better..Chaney is stubborn and he tips his hat in the pistol format which is what Muschamp is game planning for.. A 2 back set will keep the defense more off balance not knowing if it's run or pass..Much of the game is riding on Chaney's play calling and IMO he should have been fired 2 years ago because he's just too predictable and his idea of a halftime adjustment is to put Bray in the shotgun and pray he can hit a long ball!!Also an up tempo game can be a 2 edge sword..When it's getting first downs; it's genius.When it's not all your doing is giving the opponent extra possessions.Hopefully Chaney has learned his lessons!!

Good points LNP, but the 1 back set forces the defense to spread out and cover the WOs. Then, it's all on the OL to produce the seams for the back to hit. They are just now getting the experience to do that well, and we are seeing the result in hundred yard rushing games. Can the O Line come up big against the Gators D Line on the rush? Only playin the game will tell. They absolutely HAVE TO protect on the passes..if that breaks down the Vols are in big trouble and only several Big Plays will bring a win. I predict Dog eats Gator, Volunteers by 10. If the pass defense holds through 4 qtrs, Smokey trots home and curls up with a really full stomach.
Go Vols!! Go Dooley!! Go SEC!!
Smokey Rules -- It's his time to HHHOOOOoooowwOOOWWWlllllllLLLLLLL!

voloffaith writes:

Brief interruption for minor vocabulary lesson:

loose yardage, loose is when something is not tightly wound...Johnny was loose for the big game.Becky had a reputation as being too loose in her morals etc.

lose yardage, lose is when you don't win...lose is when goal is unachieved. I don't want to lose to the chompers again.

Sorry , but the interchanging of terms was starting to be about every post...

GO VOLS!!!

Pipe_Down_Otis writes:

If our O-line does what it's suppose to, we should win. They've been talked about for the last 2 years, it's time for them to get the job done.

Snapshot writes:

in response to Pipe_Down_Otis:

If our O-line does what it's suppose to, we should win. They've been talked about for the last 2 years, it's time for them to get the job done.

Like your screen name, got a good chuckle out of it!

Agree with your assessment.

duck_in_a_pen writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Brief interruption for minor vocabulary lesson:

loose yardage, loose is when something is not tightly wound...Johnny was loose for the big game.Becky had a reputation as being too loose in her morals etc.

lose yardage, lose is when you don't win...lose is when goal is unachieved. I don't want to lose to the chompers again.

Sorry , but the interchanging of terms was starting to be about every post...

GO VOLS!!!

We also need clarification concerning their, there, and they're.

Flori-duh fans are not excited about THEIR team.
They are nervous about the outcome in Neyland Stadium Saturday night so don't look for many UF fans to be THERE.
Flori-duh only sold 4500 tickets to the game because they know THEY'RE going to LOOSE (or is it lose?)

bkwats2003#237114 writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

After UT goes up by 28 at the half, I hope Bray aka The Gunslinger comes out. We want Muschamp to stick around for a few years and keep finishing 6-6 or 7-5. GBO!!!

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

All you posters really think we will win in a blowout? I see only a 3 or 4 pt. victory. By the way, anyone heard from Walt '81 this week?

VolFan_InFlorida writes:

One thing to say about UT running game or lack thereof....Derrick Henry is asking his official visit to the hill this weekend. And he actually could make people forget about Jamal or Travis or Hardesty. He's a freak, and a game changer. Go Vols!

VolzsFan writes:

The Gators issued the Mid Major Vols their annual beating. Nuff said.

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