Will The Real Riggs Step Up?

Much of the optimism surrounding Tennessee's 2005 football campaign is based on the return of tailback Gerald Riggs and what he can do to revitalize the Vols ground game.

After all, as a junior, the former high school all-American finally lived up to the unbridled expectations that trailed him from Chattanooga Red Bank in 2002. Riggs broke the 1,100-yard barrier in 2004 topped by an outstanding 182-yard performance vs. Auburn in the SEC title game. That contest against a Tiger team that featured NFL first round draft choices Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams catapulted Riggs into the ranks of the nation's best and convinced many he had at last overcome the injuries and immaturity that marked his first two seasons on the Hill.

Even though Riggs hasn't held the starting tailback job in his three seasons at UT, he is being mentioned as a preseason All-SEC choice and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. That's a extra large leap for the talented TB and it remains a matter of claim whether he'll rise to such lofty heights given the added burden of being a marked man in Tennessee's offense.

Even if Riggs manages to avoid the injury bugaboo and stays on the straight and narrow off the field and in the classroom, there is reason to question his potential for consistent production this fall.

Impressive as his yardage total and his 5.7 yards per carry average were in 2004, if you breakdown Riggs junior season you will find cause for concern. For when he was good, he was very, very good and when he wasn't he was mediocre.

Overall, Riggs gained 1,107 net yards in 2004, but 775 of those yards were amassed in six games. In the other seven games of the season, he netted only 318 yards. The disparity is only marginally impacted by number of carries. To fully appreciate that difference you have to look at hiw yards per game and per carry. In the six games in which he surpassed 100 yards and accumulated 775 total yards, Riggs averaged 129.1 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry. In the other seven games, he averaged 45.4 yards per contest and 3.9 yards per carry. (This doesn't even address the issue of his six total touchdowns scored last season.)

The disparity is even more stark when comparing the top three games of Riggs' season to his bottom three contests. Against Vanderbilt, Louisiana Tech and the SEC title tilt against Auburn, he compiled 447 yards and averaged 13.2 yards per carry and 149 yards per game. In his three worst games against Alabama, South Carolina and Notre Dame, he gained 101 total yards. averaging a paltry 2.9 yards per run and 33.6 yards per game.

Interestingly, Riggs' three worst games came in consecutive weeks and were followed by two of his three best games. In fact, after gaining 101 yards in 35 carries against Alabama, S.C. and Notre Dame, he gained 491 yards in 55 carries over the next four games against Vandy, Kentucky, Auburn and Texas A&M.

Maybe Gerald Riggs finally learned the secrets of sustaining production over the last four games of 2004 season. If he didn't, the 2005 season could be a roller coaster for UT because as Riggs goes so go the Vols.

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