Butch Jones began his post-game press conference Saturday after his team's 19-8 win over Missouri with a question many people who watch Tennessee have asked over the course of the 2015 season. On a frigid night in Columbia where temperatures dipped below 30 degrees, Jones had one simple inquiry that his star running back answered without saying a word.
"What can I say about Jalen Hurd," the third-year Tennessee coach asked.
He didn't have to say anything at all. Hurd did all the talking he needed to with his powerful legs for four quarters in a grind-it-out win over Mizzou in which he both cracked the 1,000 yard mark on the year (1,038) and became the first true sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards in Tennessee program history. After the game, Hurd's offensive linemen held him up for a picture in Faurot Field like a 240-pound prize fish. For an O-line that has experienced as much turbulence, attrition and anguish as this unit over the past two seasons, it was an accomplishment they could bask in just as much.
"That's such a huge accomplishment for us," left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. "It's a really big accomplishment. I'm very happy that Jalen got that. I'm very happy with all the offensive linemen who have played this year and helped toward that."
The thundering back averaged 4.4. yards per carry on a whopping 34 carries, shouldering much of Tennessee's offensive load in the fourth-coldest game on record in program history. Hurd now stands as the first 1,000-yard back for the Vols since Rajon Neal did it in 2013.
"He ran hard. He squared his shoulders at the line of scrimmage and he got the ball north and south," head coach Butch Jones said. "A 4-yard run is good run versus this defense, and I thought our offensive line did a good job.We were able to break some big explosive runs as well, but I think the big thing was Jalen ran downhill and got his shoulders north and south. We said this would be a game where a dirty yard or two is a good run, and we were able to do that."
Hurd's accomplishment came against one of the most vaunted run defenses in the country, which made it even sweeter for him and his offensive line. Coming into the game, Missouri ranked as the No. 3 run defense in the SEC. Tennessee promptly carved them up for 248 total rushing yards despite only throwing for 89 yards. It was a fitting tribute to how far the run game has come after 2014's offensive line struggles.
"Almost every week we have something to prove because of what happened last year, how we were looked down upon as the weakness of the team" Kerbyson said. "All year we've had a point to prove and we went into it saying we've got to show them something."
The O-line finally put Hurd down, dropping their prize fish back onto the ocean of turf to join the rest of the team inside the locker room after his record setting day. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie greeted his back with a pat on the back as they joined the rest of the coaching staff before being whisked away back to Knoxville on the team plane.
What can Butch Jones say about Jalen Hurd?
Turns out it's a lot.