Tennessee Vols Football: Running Game Must Improve in SEC Play

Joel BarkerSenior Writer ISeptember 17, 2011

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 17:  Running back Tauren Poole #28 of the Tennessee Volunteers during a game against the Florida Gators  at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

This is not exactly a new feeling for Vols fans. Losing to the Florida Gators has become as common an occurrence as hearing Rocky Top 47 times a game. What is not common to Vols fans, however, is the utter disappearance of the ground game.  

If there's one thing we all learned in the Vols loss at The Swamp, it's that Tennessee must work on the run game.

Yes, the Vols bread is buttered by the arm of sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray. Yes, the Vols could still throw all over a few SEC teams. But it's obvious that you must run the ball to be a relevant team in the Southeastern Conference.

The Vols were held to negative total rushing yards in Gainesville Saturday. Minus-nine yards to be exact. The negative yardage was aided by three Florida sacks and a terrible third quarter snap that sailed past quarterback Tyler Bray, but Vols running backs had 14 carries for only 27 yards on the day. 

That's obviously not going to cut it in big time matchups with the SEC's elite. That's not to say that Florida is elite right now, but it's obvious that the Gators are a lot better than the Vols at this point.

The loss of Justin Hunter drastically effected Tennessee's game plan. Maybe the Vols still lose with him, but it was obvious who the Vols planned to utilize in Saturday's game after this young Tennessee team looked completely lost when the track star went down with a knee injury on the first passing play.  

With SEC defenses being as fast and athletic as they are, teams simply cannot afford to be one-dimensional.

Maybe the passing game eventually opens up the run game if Hunter doesn't go down five minutes into the first quarter. But the bottom line is, there must be some semblance of a running game for the Vols to be successful. 

The hogmollies up front, who seem to have little problem in pass protection, are simply not doing their jobs when it comes to the run. Senior running back Tauren Poole doesn't appear to have what it takes to make things happen on his own either.

Poole had over 1,000 rushing yards last season, but he routinely misses cuts and struggles to follow his blocks.

With Hunter's injury appearing to be a season-ender, the Vols coaching staff must do whatever it takes to get more production out of this running game. Whether that includes blowing the whole thing up and starting from scratch or just tweaking a few things here and there, Tennessee must get more consistent on the ground or it will continue to relive these losses versus the SEC's elite. 

Minus-nine yards rushing in big games simply will not cut it.