Vols have 'bullets'

When Tennessee rushed for 272 yards in Game 1 vs. Nevada-Las Vegas, 171 in Game 2 vs. Florida and 347 in Game 3 vs. Louisiana Tech -- an average of 263 yards per game -- it appeared the Vols were going to boast an unstoppable ground game.

Then the injuries began to mount and the rushing totals began to slide. Forced to go with patchwork offensive lines each Saturday featuring the five healthiest blockers at the time, Tennessee's ground game virtually ground to a halt.

Now that the Vols have had a few weeks to rest and recuperate for their Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl date with Texas A&M, however, their offensive line is healthy again (except for Michael Munoz, who will miss the game because of shoulder surgery).

How much will having a healthy O-line help Tennessee's ground game? A lot, says senior center Jason Respert.

''When you have all your bullets in your gun, that's going to help you out,'' he said. ''You don't want to be shooting duds.''

Given the fast start the ground game had when all hands were healthy, does he ever wonder ''what might've been'' if not for so many injuries? Respert shook his head emphatically.

''That's a hypothetical situation,'' he said. ''All you're going to do is worry yourself to death if you start worrying 'What if?' You have to deal with What IS.''

Still, Respert admits that it would be nice to regain the form Tennessee's offense showcased in September, when everyone was healthy.

''It'd be REAL nice,'' he said. ''I guarantee Coach (Randy) Sanders would like that, too. Hopefully, we'll be able to do what we can do in the Cotton Bowl; that's run the ball and then run our offense off of that.''


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