Which Vol Would You Give the Ball?

It's fourth down and goal at the 1 yard-line and the Vols trail Georgia 21-17 with six seconds remaining before a packed Neyland Stadium crowd on Oct. 11, 2003.

Inside Tennessee's huddle, Casey Clausen keeps his California cool despite having to call the play at the top of his lungs in order to be heard by his teammates above the din of impassioned masses. UT has marched the ball down the field primarily on the ground to reach the threshold of the Promised Land. Now the Vols have one play to claim a victory and assume the driver's seat in the SEC East.

Georgia uses it final timeout to regroup and hopefully gasp a second wind for a defense that has been driven to the brink of defeat. On the sidelines, the Bulldogs brain trust anticipates Tennessee will stick to what's been successful, which means another test for their defensive front.

On the opposite side of the field, their Tennessee counterparts are fully committed to the course of power football that has taken them so far and so late in a critical contest. That means the Vols last chance will be a run, but which back will they give the ball?

Should it be their leading rusher Cedric Houston, who is on pace to break the 1,500-yard barrier for the season and has over 100 yards on the day? Or should it be Gerald Riggs Jr. who has exhibited flashes on brilliance all season and is averaging six yards per carry in the contest? Would you prefer Houston's cutback ability and no nonsense style to Riggs' athleticism and exciting bursts?

Remember you only have 60 seconds to make the call and one opportunity to salvage the season's most precious objectives. Obviously, it would be a tough call for most, but not for Tennessee running backs coach Woody McCorvey. In fact, McCorvey wouldn't need six seconds or any of the above options to make what might be the call of a lifetime.

"When we need a yard or two yards, I know we can give Jabari Davis the football and he'll get it, whereas with the other two I can't say that right now," McCorvey revealed during an interview for a feature in the upcoming Rocky Top News preseason football magazine. "That's where Jabari really plays in short yardage, when we need to keep a drive going and then down inside the 5 yard-line, we can give him the football and I know he's going to get it in the end zone, whether we got a block or not, because of the type of runner that he is. I think all of those guys give us something. Jabari is a guy you know that can run the ball between the tackles."

McCorvey doesn't hesitate to add that Houston and Riggs have the edge when it comes to testing the perimeter of a defense or breaking long runs, but he regards the J-Train as the fastest track to success in short yardage situations. He also praises the efforts Davis has made to get himself ready for the season and likes what he saw from the Stone Mountain, Ga., native this spring.

"He ran hard, plus he's made a conscious effort to lose weight," said McCorvey. "He saw last year he was not as quick and not as productive as he was as a freshman because he had put on some weight. He had the (knee) surgery going into the summer and wasn't able to do a lot of running or get on the treadmill, and it was hard to take it (weight) off during the season. He has really worked hard to do that this year and he knows it's going to help him."

Davis was limited this spring by a cast he wore on his hand following surgery, but he looked quicker and ran harder in the spring game than he did last fall when he held the starting job while Houston recovered from hand surgery.

Now he appears ready to make a major contribution to Tennessee's offensive resurgence and the competition he brings to the tailback position will undoubtedly pay dividends for the Vols.

"The thing that Jabari Davis gives you, everybody talks about him playing fullback, is that he can play both positions," said McCorvey. "I still think he's a tailback we can use in there at fullback.

"It's always good to have the competition there and to have those guys, too. If you're playing one and he's all of a sudden injured, we've got enough guys to help minimize that."

Without question, Tennessee is rich in running backs and in short yardage situations, Davis is solid gold.

Editor's Note: The complete, in-depth story of Tennessee's running backs can be read in the Rocky Top News annual football edition, along with dozens of other entertaining and informative features. To order your copy call 1-800-828-VOLS.


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