Riggs ready to emerge?

Gerald Riggs' play at the end of last Saturday's game with Duke impressed Vol fans and, more importantly, Vol coaches.

''He might be the guy to give us those plays you don't coach -- making a cutback, breaking a tackle or two,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said Tuesday. ''I'm anxious to see how he does. He did a good job last week.''

Although UT was without No. 1 tailback Cedric Houston last weekend, Riggs saw mostly mopup duty against Duke. After producing 31 yards and a touchdown on just five carries, the sophomore tailback will play early in this Saturday's game at Miami, even though Houston should be back in action.

''I think Gerald has earned the opportunity to play early,'' Fulmer said. ''That's kind of what everybody's been waiting on. He's still got to be really sharp with his (pass) protections and things but he'll play early.''

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders also seemed pleased by Riggs' work against Duke.

''Gerald did some really nice things with the ball,'' Sanders said. ''I expect Gerald to play at tailback (vs. Miami) and get some carries there.''

Riggs, who almost transferred last year due to his lack of playing time, isn't ready to get too excited just yet. Asked if he thinks he'll get more carries this weekend, he replied, ''I don't know. I really don't know. We'll have to see what happens.''

Still, he was encouraged by his performance last Saturday.

''It was good to get in there and make a few plays,'' he said. ''It's been a long time coming but I was grateful to get in and make a few plays.''

A crowd favorite, Riggs got a rousing ovation from the fans when he made back-to-back runs of 13 and 12 yards -- the latter producing Tennessee's final touchdown of the Duke game. Did he sense the energy of the crowd?

''A little bit,'' he said. ''While I'm running, I don't focus too much on the crowd. When I got into the end zone and started back to the sideline, I realized a lot of people were cheering. That felt pretty good. Hopefully, I'll be able to make some more moments like that.''

Asked how it felt to score his first collegiate touchdown, Riggs deadpanned: ''It felt like any other touchdown, really. It was just on a bigger stage in a bigger stadium and in a different uniform. I was helping out the team and putting some points on the board.''

A former prep All-American at Chattanooga Red Bank High School, Riggs probably has better running skills than any player on Tennessee's roster. Perhaps he can build on his success against Duke and become the star-quality back the Vols so desperately need.

''I think so,'' he said. ''Those last three runs in the fourth quarter is where I got all my yards. I showed some things on those runs that I think would be pretty useful in the game coming up this weekend. But that's up to the coaches. We just have to see.''

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