All About the Run

As much space, thought and talk as has been dedicated to Tennessee's senior quarterback and it's talented, albeit untested, receiving corps, the simple truth is that the road to Atlanta can't be traveled by air.

Just as you can't win a war with air power alone, neither can you consistently win football games against good opponents via the pass. In warfare, conquest requires boots on the ground. In football, victory depends on a productive ground attack.

No better example can be found than the 2006 season in which Tennessee posted a 9-4 mark. Over the course of that 13-game slate, which concluded with a loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl, the Vols surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team five times. They were 5-0 in those contests with scoring totals of 35 vs. California, 33 vs. Marshall, 41 vs. Memphis, 51 vs. Georgia and 39 vs. Vanderbilt.

The average margin of victory in those five victories was 25 points. In the eight games they failed to reach 100 yards on the ground, they finished 4-4. The average margin of victory in the four games that Tennessee won while rushing for less than 100 yards was plus-4. The average margin of defeat in losses to Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Penn State was minus-8. In those four setbacks UT averaged only 56.5 rushing yards.

Furthermore Tennessee managed to reach the century mark via the run only once over its last eight games in 2006. Thanks to a couple of 200-plus yardage games against California (216) and Memphis (205) the Vols managed to average 106 yards per game last season, the lowest in Fulmer's 15-year era. (Even in the disastrous 2005 campaign (5-6) Tennessee averaged 128 yards per game on the ground. Compare those two year totals to the 1998 national title season when UT averaged 211.3 yards per contest and went 13-0. Or to Phillip Fulmer's first full season as head coach in 1993 when the Vols averaged a 238.2 yards per game and scored a school record 58 touchdowns in 11 regular season games.

The 1993 campaign stands as the perfect season for UT's offense because of balance. That year the Vols ran for 2,621 yards and passed for 2,665 yards. They scored 27 touchdowns on the ground that year and 31 through the air. An average game for UT that season would have been 238 yards rushing and 242 passing. That's balance with a capital B.

In the bigger picture it's clear that Tennessee's rise and decline under Fulmer are reflected in rushing totals. Beginning with his interim head coaching status in 1992, in which he was also offensive coordinator, and carrying through 1999 the Vols went over 2,000 yards rushing in five of eight regular seasons. They fell short in 1995-1997 when Peyton Manning was the quarterback and Air Tennessee was launched. In 1995 they barely missed the mark with 1,972 yards in 11 games. In 1997 they weren't far off with 1,813 yards in 12 games.

From 1999 through 2006, UT only reached the 2,000 yard mark in the regular season once, and that was in 2004 when the Vols played 13 games, including the SEC title game. That's once in eight seasons. By contrast, from 1987 to 1994 (another eight season span) the Vols shattered the 2,000 rushing barrier in seven times and surpassed 2,500 yards four times. The only season they failed to compile a couple of grand on the ground was 1988 when they rushed for 1,480 in 11 games and finished 5-6.

Last season Tennessee rushed for 1408 yards in 12 regular season games. That underscores how close the Vols were to suffering consecutive losing seasons, and why restoring the run is the key to success this fall.

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