When it comes to the ground game, the Vols had 23 percent less rushing yardage than their opponents. From the backfield they averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 110.1 yards per game on the gorund. For comparison sake, Penn State's running game averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 147.2 yards per game, 25 percent more than Tennesee's.
Despite the numbers though, Tennesee has three tailbacks who have seen significant action this season in LeMarcus Coker, a 5-foot-11, 207 pound redshirt freshman who recently returned to practice on Tuesday after being recently suspended from some practices, Montario Hardesty a 6-foot, 205 redshirt freshman and Arian Foster, a redshirt sophomore. Although they have multiple backs to turn to, the Vols are ranked No. 95 nationally in rushing offense.
On the year, Coker has been Tennessee's primary back, picking up 660 yards on 103 carriers and four touchdowns. His impressive 6.4 yards per carry were picked up in eight games and are a result of his 4.45-range speed and ability to shift in traffic. He had three 100+ rushing performances this season against Memphis, Marshall and Vanderbilt.
Although Coker missed some recent practices for violating an unspecified team rule, he returned to practice action on Tuesday. As Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer said, "He's here and ready to go."
Hardesty saw first team practice reps and Foster ran with the second team in Coker's absence.
In fact the entire unit has experienced some significant injury issues with all three tailbacks seeing limited action at times this year.
According to Hardesty, "Injuries kind of slowed us down as a whole." Hardesty has been limited some by the lingering effects from an off-season ACL surgery. Foster missed the Florida game with a high-ankle sprain, which helped Coker see extended playing time.
Despite some injurt issues, Hardesty saw action in every game this season, with his season high being 72 yards against Air Force. Although Hardesty had one more carry than Coker during the regular season he averaged 2.73 less yards per carry, picking up 382 yards on 104 carries. Hardesty tends to see more shirt yardage situations and provides a change of pace for the Vols out of the backfield.
Foster got 79 carries this season for 257 yards. He took the bulk of carries in Coker's absence due to a knee injury in the South Carolina and LSU games this year. However, Foster led all rushers in carries and yardage in five games this season, but missed the Memphis and Marshall games.
Senior offensive guard talked about opening holes for their backs against PSU's defense, saying, "They've got some really good front seven guys. Whether we were No. 1 in the nation in rushing or not, it was going to be a challenge facing these guys." He went on to say, "If we can take care of it and put it away early, we'd love to do that, but I think it's going to be a slugfest."
If it is a "slugfest," Tennessee will have multiple backs with experience to turn to in an attempt to overcome Penn State's stingy defense. A defense that is ranked No. 10 against the rush nationally.