Balance needed?

Tennessee's philosophy of offense is tied closely to the law of gravity: If you lose your balance, you fall. The Vols lost their balance last Saturday against Florida (231 passing yards, minus-11 rushing yards) and, sure enough, they fell, 21-20.

Is it really that simple, though? Consider:

- Tennessee rushed for just 70 yards on 34 carries but still beat LSU 30-27 last season.

- Notre Dame ran for just 48 yards on 34 attempts but still dumped Tennessee 41-21 last fall.

- Tennessee outgained Vanderbilt 251-49 in rushing yards last season but still lost 28-24.

- Tennessee was outrushed 281-79 yards by Air Force 12 days ago but still won 31-30.

- Tennessee's last 14 games over two seasons have seen the team that rushed for more yards win seven times and lose seven times.

Look at last weekend: Despite absolutely no support from the ground game, Tennessee's passing game was productive enough to get the Vols within two points of beating the No. 7 team in the country.

"Our passing game has really come on," head coach Phillip Fulmer noted. "We're doing a lot of good things in that area – Erik (Ainge) and the wide receivers and the protections. I'd like for us to get the ball to the running backs more but I think we've made some significant strides from that standpoint."

Still, the head man is concerned by the lack of balance. Since the opener against Cal (216 rushing yards, 298 passing yards), there has been no semblance of balance in the Vol attack.

"Early on, I thought we were on the right track to be a very balanced team," Fulmer said. We've got to make sure we get back to that because one is only as good as the other in most cases when you play good teams. We've got to get the running backs well and get our offensive line back on track, so we can have a much more in-sync and balanced offensive football team."

Tennessee's offensive linemen enjoyed considerable success blocking Cal's front seven and decent success blocking Air Force's front seven. They found blocking an SEC-caliber front seven last weekend against Florida to be a completely different challenge.

"We told 'em, 'Welcome to the real world. This is the way it is,'" Fulmer recalled. The quarterback responded well. The receivers responded well. The offensive line did not respond well."

Fulmer believes his offensive linemen basically beat themselves in the Florida game due to sloppy technique and execution.

"It was things they hadn't done all year with their sets and pad leverage and things," he said, summarizing with four words: "They lost their discipline."

Why hasn't the run blocking been better? Basically, Fulmer says Ramon Foster has not been healthy enough and some of the young linemen have not been consistent enough.

"Ramon Foster getting hurt really set him back," the head man noted. "Ramon was a guy who could play any of the positions."

As for the young guys, they are gradually working their way into the mix.

"I've seen a sense of urgency coming from Jacques McClendon," Fulmer said of the imposing freshman from Chattanooga. "He's moving around a lot better, and a lot of that is just understanding.

"Josh McNeil certainly gives us depth. Chris Scott has made good progress. I'm hopeful those guys will continue to play better, get themselves ready to play in a game."

Given that Tennessee managed just 79 rushing yards against Air Force, you have to wonder: Does this line have enough talent to open holes against LSU, Georgia, Alabama and other top-tier SEC foes?

"They are good enough," Fulmer said. "They did not manage themselves well Saturday against some really good (Florida) players. It was fundamental things. It wasn't effort. It wasn't physical ability. They should be a lot better as we go along because of this bad experience they had if they are the right type people.

"And I think they are."


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