Don't blame backs

Phil Fulmer could've blamed Tennessee's abysmal rushing performance versus Florida on star tailback Arian Foster's ankle injury. But he didn't. He could've blamed it on backup tailback Montario Hardesty's inexperience. But he didn't.

"I think it's more about the people up front," the Vols' head man said when asked how much Foster's absence contributed to the net total of minus-11 rushing yards. "Montario Hardesty's a good back himself. There's a reason Arian's the starter but we didn't give the running backs much chance to do anything."

Although the Gators' front four may be the best the Vols face all season, Fulmer declined to use that as an excuse for Tennessee's inability to run effectively.

"Give Florida credit to some degree but we didn't take care of business," he said. "We've got to get our pads down, got to get better push and in pass protection we've got to do a much better job."

Foster carried twice for two yards against Florida but clearly was not at peak health. Hardesty rushed 17 times for 14 net yards. Asked if he still is confident in Hardesty, Fulmer replied: "I am. We've got to give him someplace to run."

Unless the blocking is better than it was against Florida, it might not matter if the Vols had Jamal Lewis at tailback.

"The offensive line on some plays got our butts handed to us," Fulmer conceded. "The backs didn't have much chance to get going at all. When you have a problem rushing the ball it gets really hard."

Despite having three new starters in its blocking front, Fulmer said the line played "pretty well" in the first two games. He added that he was "very surprised" by the struggles against Florida. He noted that senior tackle Arron Sears played well against the Gators but that the other linemen performed erratically.

"It wasn't the same person every time and it wasn't same defender every time," Fulmer said. "It was a combination of different things. We lost too many battles, gave up too much pressure. I was surprised we didn't do better."

Asked to pinpoint the specific mistakes UT's blockers made against Florida, Fulmer replied:

"They weren't as physical as they need to be, not as fundamentally sound as they need to be. Those areas were not up to par … not where they were the first week or even the second week. Some of them didn't answer the bell. From a technical standpoint, they just didn't get it done."

Despite spotty pass protection, Fulmer thought quarterback Erik Ainge held up very well in the face of considerable pressure.

"I thought he did real well managing things," Fulmer said. "He stepped up, threw it away when he had to, took the hit a time or two. I thought he did fine."


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