Tennessee's physical run game has become the Vols' identity

Team 119 has proven its identity lies on the ground.

Tennessee's offensive identity isn't very complicated these days. If you have a defense, the Vols will run over it. 

Led by sophomore Jalen Hurd, Tennessee has compiled 1,464 yards on the ground through its first seven games en route to developing into one of the best rushing teams in the NCAA. On Saturday Hurd thundered for 92 yards against Alabama, the No. 3 run defense in the country coming into the matchup and one that gave up just 70 yards on the ground per game to its first six opponents. 

The Hendersonville native put in the best individual performance against the Crimson Tide of any player they've faced so far, upping his rushing total to 664 yards and cementing his spot as one of the best rushers in a conference dripping with running back talent. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound buzzsaw is 800 yards away from Tennessee's single-season rushing record of 1,464 yards set by Travis Stephens in 2001 and halfway to the Vols' season record for rushing touchdowns with eight through seven games. 

"I think he deserves conversation as one of the best backs in the United States of America," coach Butch Jones said after Saturday's 19-14 loss to No. 8 Alabama. "You look what he's doing and the tough yards that he gets, I think he needs to start getting more attention on a national stage." 

Complementing Hurd in the backfield is former Scout five-star running back Alvin Kamara and quarterback Joshua Dobbs, two other backs that make Tennessee extra dangerous. Dobbs has grown into the best running quarterback in the league, usurping Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott in that role with 387 rushing yards on the season. The junior QB only ran for 19 yards against Alabama, but used his quick feet to escape pressure and buy time in the 19-14 loss. 

"That was a dominating defensive front going into the game only giving up 70 yards a game total in rushing," Jones said. "I thought we were able to do some good things." 

Kamara has racked up 276 rushing yards of his own, developing into the perfect change-of-pace back to spell Hurd and give Tennessee's offense a spark when needed.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the ground game this season has been what the team is currently running behind on the offensive front. Tennessee lost starting guard Marcus Jackson before the season before fellow guard Jashon Robertson, right tackle Brett Kendrick and backup offensive lineman Mack Crowder all also went down with injuries. Despite a makeshift line that currently starts two freshmen in Jack Jones and Chance Hall, Tennessee has been able to notch 726 rushing yards in its first four SEC games as it continues its assault on the ground.

Those solid rushing numbers haven't translated into more wins yet, however, as Tennessee struggles to seal close games. The Vols (3-4, 1-3) have lost all four of their games this season by a combined 17 points. But those gut-punching losses haven't stifled the confidence of the team as it works toward closing out the season in style heading into the back half of the schedule, starting with a Halloween date against Kentucky in Lexington. 

"We enjoy being around each other," Kamara said. "We win together, we lose together. Going into Kentucky week, we're going to do the same thing: work hard, enjoy each other's company, enjoy the coaches, enjoy Vol Nation, enjoy being back in Knoxville and just work." 


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