Offense Stretches Legs

As unfortunate as the dismissal of talented sophomore tailback LaMarcus Coker was, his absence on Saturday underscored how you can sometimes have too much depth for your own good.

Running backs rust with too much rest. They need carries to stay sharp and playing time to accelerate their progress. If Coker had played against Louisiana-Lafayette, Lennon Creer would have been relegated to mop-up duty and maybe Montario Hardesty gets lost in the shuffle like he did against Alabama.

Instead Hardesty gained 45 yards in nine carries (5 yards per carry) and Creer cruised past the century mark with 109 yards in seven carries for an eye-opening 15.4 yards per carry. Combined they finished with 154 yards in 16 carries compared to Coker's 169 yards in 45 carries (3.8 yards per carry) this season.

It also meant power back Arian Foster got 20 carries for 100 yards. A large payload is significant to a back like Foster who seems to get stronger throughout the course of a game. Moreover his style helps to break a defense down and soften it up for the speed backs.

Certainly Coker fit that category as he proved with several big plays in his freshman season at UT. However he didn't run with the authority or fluidity he did in 2006. It's tough in the normal flow of a game to get three backs quality playing time, and it's impossible to rotate four backs effectively.

It's easy to be deceived by a one-sided game of this nature, but a rotation that features Foster, Hardesty and Creer could be very productive down the stretch. Most of the time the Vols are going to stick with the hot hand and each of these backs possess distinct styles that pose different problems for opponents. That gives the offense some flexibility and allows it to exploit a variety of defensive weaknesses. Developing a trio that can compete for playing time will also help the Vols get a leg up on next season.

Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Louisiana-Lafayette 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.

RUNNING BACKS (94) The Ragin' Cajun defense won't be mistaken for Alabama's 1992 stop troops, and there was a lot of room to run, but the backs still impressed. It's the same as watching a standout pitcher face a weak line-up and still discerning his talent. Just because the competition wasn't good doesn't mean the pitcher isn't. These are good backs, probably better than other higher rated RB stables at Tennessee in recent years. They averaged 7.0 yards per carry — counting Gerald Jones 20 yards in a short stint at QB —didn't fumble the ball and scored four of the the Vols six touchdowns. OFFENSIVE LINE (89) The bottom-line on the O-line: 29 first downs, 45 points, 466 yards, 7.1 yards per play, no sacks and no fumbles. The offensive line made short work of an inferior opponent, allowing the regulars to get some much needed rest and the reserves to get some much needed reps. That's all the coaching staff could ask for. The only factor that knocks down this score is the quality of competition.

QUARTERBACKS (85) It wasn't a big passing day for the Vols simply because they didn't need one. Erik Ainge connected on 68 percent of his passes for 125 yards and a TD, while Jonathan Crompton hit 75 percent of his passes for 68 yards and a 49-yard TD. With the clock rapidly running down on Ainge's college career, the development of Crompton becomes more critical to the Vols football future. Since Phillip Fulmer has expressed total confidence in Crompton it seems this would have been a good game to have given him significant playing time. However he didn't enter the game until the fourth quarter with the Vols up 45-7. Gerald Jones played the last offensive series and contributed a 12-yard TD run.

RECEIVERS (80) Kenny O'Neal caught his first touchdown on a 49-yard play-action pass from Crompton in what was UT's longest gain of the day. You never know how quickly a junior college player will catch on and the Vols have to hope O'Neal can step up his game next season to give the Vols a deep threat. Tennessee missed out on JC wideout Demetrius Byrd who is playing lights out for LSU. It just goes to show you never know. Quintin Hancock caught a touchdown and Denarius Moore had 36 yards on four catches. Lucas Taylor had five catches for 51 yards in another solid effort.

OVERALL (87) A good performance against a bad opponent that padded the stats and cleared the bench. The Vols were 5 of 5 in the red zone, had no turnovers and put together some nice scoring drives.

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