O-line's confidence soars

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer said he was "sending a message" when he opted to go for it on fourth-and-one at the Vol 45-yard line in the first quarter of last Saturday's game with Arkansas.

The move was intended to send the Razorbacks a message along the lines of "We're coming at you," but it also sent a message to Tennessee's offensive line: "We believe in you."

That message was received – well received, in fact – by members of the Vols' blocking front. They opened a nice hole for Erik Ainge, who plunged for THREE yards on a quarterback sneak, easily picking up the first down and sustaining a drive that eventually gave UT a 7-0 lead.

The O-line got another ringing endorsement in the second quarter – this time on third-and-one at the Razorback 34. Another quarterback sneak ... another nice surge by the offensive line ... another three-yard gain. This time the resulting first down led to a field goal.

Buoyed by the early success, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe kept calling running plays, relying on the O-line to get some push. The O-line kept responding, enabling Tennessee to outrush the NCAA's second-ranked rushing team 151-127.

"I think it was a confidence-builder for us, as well as Coach Cutcliffe," junior guard Anthony Parker said. "It allowed him to build confidence in us and for us to build confidence in ourselves to be able to run the ball.

"Knowing he's going to give us that call and he's going to continue to do it over and over again, I think it definitely helps us as a whole team to be able to run the ball."

Tennessee ran the ball poorly in 2005 and 2006, so second-year offensive line coach Greg Adkins probably deserves some credit for the 2007 renaissance. Naturally, the players deserve some credit, as well.

"They're fun to be around," Cutcliffe said. "They're leaders because of the way they work on the practice field. And Coach Adkins has got that great rhythm and tempo on the practice field."

After being primarily a passing team in September, Tennessee evolved into a pretty solid running team during October. The Vols believe that is making their passing game even more effective in November.

"I definitely do," Parker said. "We had a pretty good game (vs. Arkansas) in the run game, and I think that may open up some passing. People may be looking out for the run a little more."

Cutcliffe, who preaches offensive balance, didn't always practice what he preached earlier this season. He seemed quick to abandon the ground game, especially in a 41-17 loss at Alabama. Lately, though, he is calling the run with regularity and confidence. That underscores his faith in the offensive linemen.

"It really is pretty special, particularly to make this change (toward more of a running attack)," the coordinator said. "You've lost your best player (Eric Young) – that's a big loss – but these guys never missed a beat."

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