Right Makes Might

Pound the Rock is the battle cry often invoked by Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer to describe a power running game that advances the ball while breaking the strength, will and resistance of the defense.

Such an offensive approach are like body blows in boxing that have a cumulative effect, slowing down an opponent and setting him up for an eventual knockout. When the power run is executed properly the O-line surges forward, the fullback blasts the hole open and the tailback follows the momentum.

The constant pounding doesn't often produce big plays, but it does create steady gains, moves the sticks, burns the clock, flips field position and tests the depths of a defense numbers and resolve. The ultimate aim is to get the tailback into the secondary and force DBs to make one-on-one tackles of bigger backs under a full head of steam.

To avoid being slowly dismantled the defense may be forced to commit more numbers at the point of attack, leaving it vulnerable to the play-action and, consequently, the big play. Such an offensive approach puts the defense on the defensive and takes away much of its aggressiveness as well as latitude to stunt and blitz.

Additionally, it keeps your defense off the field and fresh throughout a game. That's particularly important in the deep South where the intensity of competition is matched only by the intensity of humidity in late summer and early autumn encounters.

The ability to control the ball reduces the risk of turnovers while pressuring the opponent's offense to produce on each possession. Playing catch up usually has a combination of three results. (1) Big plays and quick scores for the offense, (2) Big plays and turnovers for the defense (3) Short series that produce no significant yardage and consume little clock.

Any or all of the three is (are) bad news for the defense which must spend the majority of its minutes on the field of play. Since it takes more energy to play defense than offense this creates a competitive inequity and, eventually, a tipping point.

This is not to say you can't win playing in a catch-up mode, but winning consistently becomes problematical. In other words: the team that controls the ground, commands the game.

Outside of the Arena Football League, that adage applies and spans generations. For instance: Tennessee set a school rushing record of 3,068 yards and 40 touchdowns in 1951. It also won the national title that season. The season before (1950) UT rushed for 2,710 and won the Dunkel national championship. Of course, that was when UT still employed the single wing which disdained the pass in favor of the run.

However, during the post single-wing era of Tennessee football, the Vols have rushed for over 2,500 yards in a season five times — 1987, 1989, 1993, 1994 and 1998 — going 52-9-1 with two SEC title and one national championship. In the last 55 seasons, UT has rushed for over 2,500 yards seven times. The Vols combined record in those seven seasons is 73-11-1 with a total of three national championships and four SEC titles. The Vols rushed for 2,418 yards in 1994 and finished 10-3 with the outright SEC East Division crown.

There are good reasons to believe the Vols can eclipse that 2,500-yard standard this fall. The biggest and strongest of these is the right side of UT's line that features Albert Toenia, 6-6, 355, and Cody Douglas, 6-4, 330. Add tight end Justin Reed, 6-7, 290, and fullback Cory Anderson, 6-3, 275, and it's clear to see the Vols can place a lot of mass in motion ahead of tailback Gerald Riggs, 6-0, 217.

Or if Randy Sanders really wants to test the laws of inertia, he could put second-team fullback David Holbert, 6-2, 260, at tailback or add Brad Cottam, 6-8, 265, as a second tight end. There are other options, like pulling weak-side tackle Arron Sears, 6-4, 330, or adding H-back Chris Brown, 6-3, 240, to lead through the hole.

Undoubtedly, the potential is there for Fulmer to pound the rock on good old Rocky Top.

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