As Tennessee heads to Columbia, SC this weekend for another SEC showdown, the Gamecock defense—ranked first in the SEC for total defense—can seemingly rest easy when it comes to stopping the run.
Although Carolina’s rush defense is not its strength, Tennessee has struggled to generate even a portion of what it once used to.
Since the Vol backfield consists of the same tailbacks as last year, some have pointed to poor coaching—both from the top with Fulmer, but also to the man coaching the running backs himself, Stan Drayton.
It’s hard to imagine that just three years ago, Drayton was brought to Gainesville, FL to re-energize the Florida Gator rushing attack, bringing with him the reputation of a top-flight recruiter and players’ coach.
Now he sits at lame-duck Tennessee, waiting for a phone call for another job offer.
You see, just as things haven’t gone as planned at Tennessee, things didn’t work out so well for Drayton at Florida either.
Sure, he picked up a nice National Championship ring, but his relationship with Urban Meyer suffered, and his tailbacks were rarely used effectively.
Just like that, Drayton was on the move, his short stint at Florida barely noticed by the casual, non-SEC fan.
The rub came when Drayton—on his way out of town, to an SEC East rival, no less—decided to take a low blow at Meyer and the Gators, telling the Nashville Tennessean that Florida was not a place a good running back would want to go.
Drayton continued, "If you’re going to be a running backs coach, you want to be part of a system that involves the running back."
Coach Drayton has been eating his words ever since.
Through eight games, Tennessee has 908 total rushing yards, and the Vols are gaining only 3.7 yards per carry. Those paltry numbers place them 11th in the conference in rush offense.
This is not your Tennessee running attack of the past.
Once a haven for attacking, power running backs, over time, the Volunteer rush attack has become stagnant, predictable, and downright mediocre.
Certainly the Vols’ overall struggles have contributed to the lack of a running game, but the overwhelming decrease in production is alarming. Last season, Arian Foster ran for 85.4 yards a game and scored 12 touchdowns. Now he’s getting 50.3 yards per game, has zero touchdowns, and is speaking pterodactyl.
Meanwhile, the team Drayton left—well, the Gators are doing just fine running the ball.
In fact, the Gator running attack is second in the SEC with 196 yards per game, and the ridiculous 5.3 yards per carry Gator ball carriers are getting is tops in the conference. Their 19 rushing touchdowns are also first in the conference.
A comparison of the leading rushers for Tennessee and Florida is indicative of the change at both programs.
Arian Foster has 402 yards—well off his pace from last year—while Jeff Demps has 359 yards (remembering that Florida has played one fewer game than Tennessee). The difference? 50 additional carries for Foster.
Demps is averaging a ridiculous 11.9 yards per carry while Foster is getting 4.7 yards per carry—again, below his average from last season.
Florida’s other backs, Chris Rainey, Kestahn Moore, and Percy Harvin, all get more yards per carry than Tennessee’s backs—and combine for more yards as well.
All this while Emmanuel Moody continues to wait out injuries. Who knows if he’ll develop the inside running game the Gators have been lacking? If so, things could get ugly for Florida’s opponents.
For those who counter with the argument that Tebow gets so many of the Gators’ rushing yards, think again. This season, Tebow’s numbers are actually hurting the Gator rush attack statistically, as Tebow has only picked up only 227 yards on a meager 2.8 yards per carry thus far.
As for Drayton: It’s one thing to leave—but to badmouth the team that boosted your résumé, specifically taking shots at the running back position, is just plain stupid.
Drayton had to see the possibilities with Rainey, Harvin, and Moody, and even Demps, who was certainly on Florida’s recruiting radar when Drayton was still on board.
At the same time, surely Drayton saw the situation he was getting himself into at Tennessee. You have to wonder why he ever left for an East rival who recently hired a new offensive coordinator, Dave Clawson, most known for his pass-happy offense.
Sure, Clawson and Drayton worked together in the past, but has anyone ever checked the wins and losses when they were at Villanova? It wasn’t pretty.
Perhaps ego got in the way. If that’s the case, Drayton better lose his in the near future, as it seems almost a certainty now that he will be shopping for a new job since Tennessee could very well end up in the cellar of the East for the first time ever.
With the poor finish Tennessee is expected to have this year, it seems very unlikely that Big Phil will return—meaning a clean sweep of the assistants as well, and with that, perhaps Drayton’s last shot at an SEC program.
While coaching at two of the most prestigious SEC schools in two years, Stan Drayton has essentially failed miserably at both, and he trashed one team to the media—a no-no in the coaching industry.
So the question is: Where does Drayton go next?
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