Coker's the key

Tennessee ran for 216 yards in Game 1 vs. Cal, 176 yards in Game 4 vs. Marshall, 205 yards in Game 5 vs. Memphis and 115 yards in Game 6 vs. Georgia. So what was the common denominator in those games?

A healthy and productive LaMarcus Coker.

Simply put, the success of UT's ground game is closely linked to the number of carries its redshirt freshman speedster gets.

Coker carried 11 times for 53 yards against California, 8 for 146 vs. Marshall, 26 for 125 against Memphis and 12 for 57 vs. Georgia.

Conversely, Coker got zero carries against Florida, and the Vols finished with minus-11 rushing yards. He carried just five times against Alabama before straining a knee, and the Vols finished with just 57 net yards. He missed the South Carolina and LSU games, watching from the sidelines as UT ran for just 71 and 62 yards, respectively.

Although still nicked up, Coker returned last week against Arkansas and carried nine times for 51 yards in helping the Vols run for 92 net yards. That was their best total since Game 6 at Georgia which, not coincidentally, was the last time Coker got double-digit carries.

Clearly, Tennessee needs to give Coker the ball as many times as his sore knee will permit in Game 11 Saturday at Vanderbilt.

"LaMarcus has speed, and he's able to get himself in the open field and make plays because of speed," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe notes. "That's his greatest asset. He's done a great job of learning how to run the football a little better – pressing holes and being a little patient on the counter and some things that were successful last week."

Although he likes all of UT's backs, head coach Phillip Fulmer concedes that Coker "is showing the most dynamics, getting space and doing some things.

"LaMarcus has good vision and good speed, even though I don't think he's 100 percent right now," the head man notes. "He has the ability to make that first guy miss by outrunning him."

And he has the ability to elevate Tennessee's ground game ... all by himself.

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