J-Train off to great start

Jabari Davis didn't wait long to answer his critics.

After an offseason spent hearing questions about his running ability and speculation that he may be better suited to play fullback, the Vols' No. 2 tailback turned his first carry of 2003 into a 44-yard touchdown in Saturday's 24-6 defeat of Fresno State. Hitting a crease at left guard, he bolted into the secondary, stiff-armed a defender, then rambled untouched into the end zone for a touchdown that padded UT's lead to 14-0 in the second quarter.

''Everything just opened up like the Red Sea, and I just made a little move to the inside,'' said Davis, who has trimmed down from 235 to 225 pounds since last season. ''There was one man but I thought, 'I can't let him stop me.' As a running back, your job is really easy when you get the linemen to block and open up holes like that.''

Tennessee's ground game was anemic for much of 2002. But, based on Saturday's performance, 2003 is going to be a different story. Vol backs combined for 274 net rushing yards on 44 carries, an average of nearly 6 yards per attempt. Cedric Houston carried 19 times for 161 yards, Davis 12 times for 84 yards.

''I think all week this team focused on what we needed to do -- and that's come out and play hard, play as a team and emphasize the running game,'' Davis said. ''We talked all week about how we wanted to get back to the Tennessee tradition of running to set up the pass. I think the running backs showed we can do that.''

Oddly, the Vols' initial running play failed miserably. Houston was hit in his tracks and stopped for no gain on the first scrimmage play of the game. Shifting to an air attack, quarterback Casey Clausen connected with James Banks on three passes that led the Vols into the end zone, however, and Fresno State's defense was considerably looser when Tennessee got the ball back for its second possession of the game. Suddenly, there was running room galore.

''The first series, with Banks doing a good job, took the safeties out of the box and put them back some,'' Davis conceded. ''So there's no doubt that helped Ced (Houston) make some long runs on that second series.''


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