Hardesty to bounce back?

The setting of Tennessee tailback Montario Hardesty's first career start was unforgettable: He faced the seventh-ranked Florida Gators before a crowd of 106,000-plus and a national television audience.

Conversely, the outcome of Montario Hardesty's first career start was QUITE forgettable: The redshirt freshman rushed 17 times for just 14 net yards as the Vols squandered a late 17-7 lead and fell 21-20.

That had to be disappointing for a guy who popped a 43-yard TD run - UT's longest of the season - in Game 1 vs. California and ran for a team-high 72 yards in Game 2 vs. Air Force. Against Florida, however, there was nowhere to run. His biggest gain was a mere five yards.

Hardesty admits that running into the brick wall known as the Florida front seven was not a pleasant experience.

"It was a little frustrating," he says, "but it's one of those things you have to go through sometimes."

Hardesty is hoping to bounce back in a big way this afternoon against Marshall (4:07 kickoff at Neyland Stadium). The Thundering Herd front seven isn't nearly as good as Florida's but it will sell out at times in an effort to stop UT's ground game.

"They've got some eight-man fronts," Hardest notes.

Air Force used some eight-man fronts to limit Tennessee to 79 rushing yards in Game 2. Florida limited the Vols to minus-11 last weekend without packing the line of scrimmage. Tennessee's coaches and players are hoping to re-establish the ground attack this afternoon.

"We're focusing on getting our rushing stats back up because here at the University of Tennessee we're usually always a good rushing team," Hardesty says. "We're number 92 in the country right now, so we've got to pick that up in order to be a good team in the SEC."

Parroting what the coaches have been saying all week, Hardesty notes that the Vols must complement their passing attack with a solid rushing attack.

"We've got to have balance," he says. "We didn't have balance against Florida, and that ended up catching us at the end of the game."

Asked if Florida was the best front seven he has faced, Hardesty shrugged. He played in two games last fall before being injured and granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA.

"I faced LSU and Ole Miss last year, and LSU had a pretty good front, too," he notes. "I think we might've made Florida's front look a little better than it was."

What's so confounding about UT's pitiful rushing performances the past two weekends is this: The Vol ground game looked potent against Cal in Game 1, grinding out 216 net rushing yards.

"We just came out that game ready to play, and we were executing," Hardesty says. "When we execute, we're a very good team. We didn't execute very good last game (Florida) but we still almost won."


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