Vols improve in trenches

Tennessee's reputation as a finesse football team may be subject to change.

If so, the timing couldn't be better, with a crucial game against a hard-nosed Alabama team coming up this weekend in Tuscaloosa.

The Vols certainly showed themselves capable of physical, aggressive trench warfare in last Saturday's 33-21 defeat of Mississippi State at Starkville, winning the battle upfront on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Tennessee's offensive line opened enough holes to produce a season-high 221 rushing yards against the Bulldogs. Arian Foster got 139 yards and backup Montario Hardesty added 78. Center Josh McNeil, who played 77 snaps and registered 10 knockdown blocks, was honored as SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his play vs. MSU.

McNeal wasn't the only Vol blocker to play well, however. His line mates, known for great pass protection and mediocre run blocking, are showing signs of developing a mean streak. Head coach Phillip Fulmer has noticed.

"They did a lot of good things," he said of the blockers' work vs. MSU. "They played hard and real well at times."

Second-team guards Vladimir Richard and Jacques McClendon continue to provide a spark for the ground attack when they enter the game in tandem to replace first-team guards Anthony Parker and Chris Scott.

"Vlad and Jacques came in and gave us some punch," Fulmer conceded. "There are still some things they can get better in."

Meanwhile, Tennessee's defensive line did a good job clogging the middle in the second half of Saturday's game. After allowing MSU tailback Anthony Dixon to rush 16 times for 78 yards in the first two quarters, the Vols limited him to just 30 yards on 10 carries in the last two quarters. Dixon had first-half runs of 18 and 30 yards. His longest run of the second half was seven yards. His second-longest was four.

"The support system wasn't in place on those long (first-half) runs," Fulmer said. "We tackled well (in the second half) and made him run laterally, didn't let him get downhill on us, which was our plan from the beginning."

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