Run game lays the groundwork for Vols dropping 50 burgers on Bama

Tennessee’s air assault on Alabama, largely on the right arm of Hendon Hooker and athletics Jalin Hyattmade the most of the Vols’ 52-49 win over Alabama on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

What the Vols did against the Crimson Tide on the court was a huge factor, though, and that’s something sophomore coaches Josh Heupel noted again on Monday afternoon.

Despite leaving 14 points on the field missing connections on two wide-open touchdown passes on two drives that resulted in zero points, Tennessee still scored 52 points against a defense that was near the top in the national level in almost all categories before the day. Alabama entered the game ranked sixth nationally in total defense, sixth nationally in base defense, and eighth nationally in rush defense. He was also fourth nationally in yards allowed per carry.

Tennessee second-year running back Jaylen Wright (Photo: Randy Sartin, USA TODAY Sports)

Tennessee held back that Bama defense, though, finishing with 567 total rushing yards, 30 first downs, and 8.1 yards per play. The Vols had just 10 third plays the entire game, and they converted some. five. They did what few teams have done against a Nick Saban defense.

And as Heupel said – and with good reason – it all started upstream. Tennessee has crushed Alabama in racing game production, which is no small feat considering Tide’s backfield has Jahmyr Gibbs and Jase McClellan.

The Vols’ pass protection numbers were incredible, especially considering the caliber of pass rushers in Alabama’s arsenal, but even that started with Tennessee running the ball well enough for the Tide to respect. and pay attention to it.

“I knew the physique was something we had to have to win,” Heupel said after Monday’s morning practice at Haslam Field. “For us on the offensive line, we knew the running game – you heard me say it, I think, earlier in the week that there’s a huge difference between the 2 against these guys at because of the way the third down is played against the 4s, 5s, 6s The tempo, the mentality, the attitude, the way – we showed it to the team today – just the way we have completed our runs, the stack moving forward, was a huge difference in this game.

“Proud of the effort and tension everyone put in on both sides of the line of scrimmage.”

Tennessee’s leading running back tandem – junior Little Jabari and second Jaylen Wright – combined for 124 yards on 24 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

By comparison, Gibbs had 103 yards on 24 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Small averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and Wright was even better at 5.9 yards per carry.

Hooker added 56 rushing yards, and a decent amount of that damage came on engineered runs.

Tennessee also added a new wrinkle and it worked. Senior tight end Princeton Fan – who played in multiple positions, including running back, during his college career – lined up as a fullback in an I-staggered formation and plowed for a 2-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.

Fant got practice reps at running back — a smart move for a team with just four healthy running backs on the active roster — and offensive coordinator Heupel Alex Golesh and running backs coach jerry mac felt good enough with those practice reps to let it tear against Alabama.

“We had been practicing it all week,” Fant said. “I just play as an emergency running back, that’s something we talked about, me and the coach [Heupel]and it’s just a blessing to be able to go back there as a full-back and do everything I can for my team, and get into the end zone and help our team.

Tennessee junior running back Jabari Small (Photo: Rand Sartin, USA TODAY Sports)

Fant said he hoped his running plays would be displayed in a game at some point, and that chance came against one of college football’s best running defenses.

“We had talked about it,” the Nashville-area native said. “Just talking to the coaches, man, they had seen my running skills. They had seen that I could run the ball. So with that, man, it’s honestly just having fun with it. The coach was just like, ‘Man, you can run the ball.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, Coach.’ We just went from there, man.

Tennessee’s offensive line made it work with Small, Wright, Hooker and even Fant. Senior right tackle Darnell Wright was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his efforts against Alabama, which included excellent run-blocking ratings and outstanding pass protection performance against Will Anderson, arguably the best player in college football. Anderson had just three tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and no official quarterback rush – although, to be fair to Anderson, he applied the pressure that led to Hooker’s first interception of the season .

Overall, however, Wright and the rest of Tennessee’s offensive linemen won the battle decisively, which largely helped determine Saturday’s outcome.

“Darnell did a great job, starting just in pass protection,” Heupel said. “Our offensive line as a whole did a very good job. He was solid all night. Won his head-to-heads. I thought in the racing game I did a pretty good job. It was when he was in man, blocking one on one, but some of the double teams on the right side of the line of scrimmage changed the way the game was played. I thought he played really solid football all night.

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