Fostering the Run

There was one point in the second half of Saturday's contest in Tuscaloosa in which Arian Foster appeared ready to take over. Oddly enough that's the same time the Vols quit handing him the football.

At a time when Tennessee's defense was badly in need of down time to rest and regroup, Foster looked like a savior with his powerful runs and nimble cutbacks. The uneasiness sweeping through the clamorous capacity crowd every time Foster — looking all the world like a young Shaun Alexander — would bite off another hunk of hallowed Tide real estate was testimony to his impact. Then, whether it was an error of omission or act of volition, the Vols shut him down and relinquished momentum.

On his first four carries of the second half Foster ripped off runs of 18, 5, 4 and 8 yards. That's 35 yards or an average of nearly 9 yards per carry. He only ran twice the rest of the game, gaining 11 yards for 46 second half yards in six carries or 7.6 yards per carry.

In the first half he had 45 yards in eight carries and finished the game with an average of 7.0 yards per carry. Oh yeah, he added another 74 yards in four pass receptions, including a 52-yard reception that was UT's biggest gain of the day. Add it all up and Foster had 165 yards in 17 touches for an average of 9.7 yards per touch.

Furthermore, he appeared to be getting stronger and was running with authority. He demonstrated as a redshirt freshman that he had the stamina to carry the load and he is so much more powerful two years later. The game was within reach without abandoning the run up until the time Alabama scored it's last touchdown at the 10:59 mark of the fourth quarter to make the score 38-17.

What's most odd about Tennessee's inexplicable disdain for the run is that better offensive balance via a more productive ground game was the driving force behind the Vols' midseason revival.

Another oddity was the decision to give the ball to true freshman Lennon Creer on third and one at the Bama 47 with 9:47 left in the second quarter, instead of feeding Foster the football. Creer was stopped for no gain as Foster watched from the sidelines. Tennessee only trailed 17-14 at the time. Alabama would then go on a 75 yard touchdown drive that consumed 7:14 of the second quarter for a 24-14 lead. The Vols only scored 3 more points the rest of the game.

The irony is Phillip Fulmer has been criticized in the past for running the ball too much, but he may have lost one of the most critical games of his coaching career because the Vols failed to run enough.

Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Alabama game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are winning marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical and won't be good enough to defeat a quality opponent. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. Each score will be followed by a brief comment. Further analysis to follow.

QUARTERBACKS (88) It's hard to fault Ainge's — 22-of-35 for 243 yards and a touchdown — performance in the time he had on the field and given the loss of Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers for much of the game. He did throw a costly interception when Tennessee was driving for a possible go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, but it was the type of pick any QB will throw if he doesn't see the underneath coverage. It's goes with the territory and no one could accuse him of letting it happen often. It was good to see Jonathan Crompton get a couple of throws although one was intercepted. It's interesting to note that Crompton's style of play closely resembles that of Bama's John Parker Wilson, who is an underrated QB and tough as nails.

RUNNING BACKS (85) Foster accounted for nearly half of Tennessee's 362 total yards from scrimmage (See above narrative), and lifts this mark as high as it is. LaMarcus Coker (12 yards in 5 carries) and Lennon Creer (one carry for no gain) did next to nothing in their brief appearances. Why Montario Hardesty, who looked outstanding the week before against Mississippi State, didn't get any carries is almost as difficult to understand as why Foster only had 13 carries.

OFFENSIVE LINE (79) Once again the O-line didn't allow a sack and UT averaged a healthy 5.4 yards per carry. However Ainge had more pressure than normal (four hurries) and was forced to throw several passes away. The biggest negative was a lack of consistency. The Vols scored on two of their first three possessions including TD drives of 71 and 68 yards, but only one drive of the next eight was longer than 30 yards. Furthermore the Vols longest drive in the game only consumed 3:50 of the clock and that ended in a punt. The most time consumed over Tennessee's last seven possessions was 2:46. The last five possessions gained 89 total yards. Penalties by the line also slowed the offense's progress.

RECEIVERS (70) With both Rogers and Lucas slowed by injuries there was significant drop off from the wideouts. H-back Chris Brown had five receptions and Foster had his team-high 74 receiving yards. Six wide receivers combined for 13 catches, 164 yards and no touchdowns. Rogers led the six pack with 4 catches for 52 yards. The good news is that true freshman Gerald Jones (2 catches, 27 yards) looked like a potential playmaker as did another raw rookie Danarius Moore (1 catch for 16 yards). Tight end Luke Stocker also had his first career reception which was good for a 3-yard TD.

OVERALL (80) Play selection hampered the offense which had its lowest output of the season. The defense also failed to get many quick turnarounds and the long breaks tampered with Tennessee's rhythm. Throw in a couple of turnovers and a couple of turnovers and it's easy to see the Vols weren't at their best against Bama. Still some good individual performances proved this is a formidable unit that should make a quick recovery, especially if they feed Foster.

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