Tennessee has shown itself capable of making big plays, too … at least against a Southern Miss-caliber defense. In Saturday night's home opener the Vols connected on six passes that gained at least 19 yards and popped three runs of 15 yards or more.
Interestingly enough, five of the six big pass plays occurred in the first half. Conversely, all three of the best runs occurred in the second half.
"We were probably more like ourselves in the second half … we ran the football and threw the football both," Fulmer said. "The receivers had a fantastic game and Arian Foster had an outstanding game."
Receivers Lucas Taylor (5 catches, 118 yards) and Austin Rogers (7 catches, 112 yards) shared the receiving load in Game 2. Foster carried the ground game with 125 yards and two touchdowns on 23 rushes. He got 94 of his yards after halftime.
"I think we've made progress there," Fulmer said of the rushing attack. "The second half was much improved. Arian Foster gives us really nice plays and yards that may not be there that he finds ways to get."
Foster may have more help this weekend. LaMarcus Coker, clearly rusty vs. USM in his first game back from a disciplinary suspension, should be a little smoother against Florida. Montario Hardesty, who carried just two times vs. USM because of a sore ankle, continues to recuperate. And freshman Lennon Creer debuted vs. USM with 53 yards on just six carries.
"We're glad to have Coker back," Fulmer said. "We should have Montario back healthy (for Florida), and I think we can get something from Lennon Crennon there."
Perhaps the other tailbacks can relieve some of the pressure on Foster. And perhaps the other receivers can relieve some of the pressure on Taylor and Rogers.
"My hope is that some of those other guys can come on, so if we have an injury it won't bother us as much," Fulmer said. "I'm really happy with where our receivers are right now."
Tennessee's veteran wideouts are not exactly home-run threats but they are running good routes and reeling in everything that's catchable. That has their head coach smiling.
"They've done real well at being consistent," Fulmer said. "If you catch the football, that's a good place to start. They're tough guys who have made tough catches."
Despite a broken pinky on his throwing hand, quarterback Erik Ainge has completed 55 of 83 pass attempts for 547 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games. That's a credit to his toughness and to his offensive line.
"We've protected pretty well both games," Fulmer said. "The one hit Erik took (vs. Cal in Game 1) was a bust by a back. The protection (from the line) has been pretty good."
For Tennessee to beat Florida, it must maintain ball control and keep the explosive Gator offense off the field. If the Vols can mix the run and the pass as effectively as they did against Southern Miss, they have a chance to come back from The Swamp with a victory.
"We did improve in the second half (of Game 2), and you like that," Fulmer said. "I think we wore on Southern Miss a little bit from a physical standpoint. We were able to be more like what we want to be."