Thanks to dedicated rehab work, LaMarcus Coker was able to return to action a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Though not yet 100 percent healthy, he carried nine times for 51 yards Saturday in Fayetteville, an average of 5.7 yards per attempt.
Moreover, Coker combined with Montario Hardesty (12 rushes, 52 yards) and Arian Foster (1 carry, 1 yard) to give Tennessee 104 net yards from the tailback position. That may not be cause for celebration but it's a heck of an improvement over the previous three games.
"We ran the ball a little better," head coach Phillip Fulmer said after reviewing the game film. "We had 22 carries from the tailback position for 104 yards."
How much of the improvement was due to Coker's return? Plenty.
"A lot of that was LaMarcus," Fulmer conceded. "He made some nice cuts and runs."
The head man spent more time than usual overseeing blocking drills during practice last week, and that apparently had an impact, too. Tennessee's run blocking was a little better Saturday night than it was the previous three games.
"There were several plays that were blocked very well," Fulmer said. "Our first-down production was good, and that's always good for the play-caller."
Tennessee was credited with 21, 23 and 20 rushing attempts in Games 7, 8 and 9. Counting sacks and quarterback scrambles, the Vols had 29 attempts against Arkansas. In retrospect, Fulmer wishes they had run more, instead of putting so much on the shoulders of redshirt freshman quarterback Jonathan Crompton (16 of 34 passing for 174 yards).
"Looking back," the head man said, "it probably would've been productive to run it a little more on first and second down ... not put quite so much pressure on Jonathan."
Although Tennessee's ground game showed improvement vs. Arkansas, the overall attack still struggled. Crompton had to throw under duress much of the evening and had at least three catchable balls dropped. He also missed open receivers a few times.
Some of that, of course, was due to the fact he was making his first career start. Some of that was due to several starters being nicked up with injuries. And some of that was due simply to poor execution.
"It seems like our offensive continuity is off a little – the timing and everything," Fulmer said. "It looks like some missed practice time by some different people has affected our execution. We need some young guys to step up when other guys can't go and we need to get our other people healthy."
Most of all, the Vols need to get the ball in the hands of LaMarcus Coker.