Montario Hardesty then replaced Coker, who did not carry again the rest of the half. I asked offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe if LaMarcus Coker was winded or nicked up, causing him to be pulled after such an impressive start.
"I don't think there was anything in particular," Cutcliffe replied. "There just weren't that many opportunities. He ran the ball well. His speed helped. We just went in knowing they (tailbacks Coker, Hardesty and Arian Foster) were all going to play. There wasn't any design to that."
After a two-yard completion, a six-yard run by Hardesty and an intentional-grounding penalty, the eight-play drive that started with Coker's four nifty runs ended with a punt on fourth and seven.
Although their previous five rushing plays had netted 43 yards – an average of 8.6 yards per attempt – the Vols came out passing on possession No. 4. An incompletion, a false-start penalty, another incompletion and a sack left Tennessee to punt on fourth and 16.
By the time UT got the ball back, it trailed 14-0. The Vols then launched a seven-play scoring drive that featured Hardesty runs of 2 and 12 yards, an end-around that lost 7 yards and three completions – the last producing a 27-yard touchdown.
Down 21-7 when it got the ball back, Tennessee again went to the air. Following a Jonathan Crompton scramble, an incompletion and an ill-fated screen to Coker, however, the Vols were forced to punt again.
Tennessee got the ball back with 2 minutes left in the half but elected to hand the ball to Hardesty and run out the clock.
Starting their first possession of the second half at their 2-yard line, the Vols finally remembered Coker, who picked up gains of 7, 2 and 4 yards as UT moved off its goal line. He got the ball two more times on UT's second possession of the second half, gaining 5 yards on the first carry and losing 5 on the second.
Trailing 28-7 entering the fourth quarter, Tennessee shifted into catch-up mode and threw the ball on virtually every down thereafter.
Coker finished with 51 yards on nine carries, an average of 5.7 per attempt. Hardesty ran well, too, finishing with 52 on 12 rushes (4.3 per carry).
"I think we made progress in running the ball," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We really focused on it. It was important to help Jon (Crompton) in that ball game, to take some of the pressure off of him and help our play-action game become legitimate. I want to continue on that path."
Still, you wonder: Why did the Vols leave "that path" in the first place?