Ced rejuvenates ground game

Tennessee's chances of upsetting top-ranked Miami this Saturday can be summed up in four syllables ... Cedric Houston.

Although the Vols' offensive line blocked better against South Carolina last Saturday than it had in previous weeks, the main reason for the resurgence in UT's ground game was Houston's ability to consistently find holes and squirt through them for four- , five- and six-yard gains.

''Cedric provided a spark when he came in there,'' Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders conceded. ''He turned a lot of two-yard gains into four-yard gains and he turned some four-yard gains into six- or seven-yard gains. He made a difference, made it easier to keep calling runs.''

Sanders has insisted all season that his job as playcaller is much easier when he's dealing with second-and-fives, instead of second-and-eights all the time.

''Obviously,'' he said. ''If you call it (run) and can keep making yards, it makes it easier to call it again.''

And, for the first time since the opener against Wyoming, Tennessee had a back ''making yards'' on a consistent basis. Although somewhat hampered by a bulky cast on his injured left hand, Houston came through time after time last weekend. His longest run was a mere 12 yards, yet he finished with 108 yards on 30 carries.

''There were some runs that could've been better -- because of the cast -- if he'd been able to put the ball in the other arm and use a stiff arm or something like that,'' Sanders said. ''But I thought Ced really did some good things. I told him after the game I was really proud of him and appreciated what he did for our offense.''

Head coach Phillip Fulmer appreciated Houston's contributions to the ground game, as well.

''It was a step in the right direction, from the standpoint of the line doing a much better job and him (Houston) making them look good at times when everything wasn't blocked perfectly,'' Fulmer said. ''Cedric made a huge difference in the ball game.''

Being a former offensive lineman and offensive line coach, Fulmer also was encouraged by the play of Tennessee's blocking wall in the Carolina game.

''They stayed locked up, they came off the ball better and we called on 'em more,'' Fulmer noted. ''We were able to hit in inside, bounce it outside and pass it outside. We kind of got them (Gamecocks) where they were not quite sure what we were doing all the time.

''It was a really good step in the right direction. But can we be better than we were Saturday? Yes, I think we can.''

It's possible but unlikely. Miami has a more talented defense South Carolina. In addition, Tennessee could be without left tackle Michael Munoz, who opened many of the holes for Houston last weekend. In addition to a broken hand and an injured shoulder, Munoz is recovering from a leg infection that earned him some hospital time this week.

''If Munoz can't go, we'll put Anthony Herrera out there (left tackle),'' Fulmer said.

If Herrera starts, talented freshman Cody Douglas becomes the No. 2 left tackle.

''Cody Douglas has done really well,'' Fulmer said. ''He played some last Saturday (10 snaps vs. Carolina), and I'm really excited about his prospects.''

Tennessee goes into the Miami game off its best rushing performance of the season -- having run for 241 yards vs. Carolina. Ironically, that came one week after the Vols posted a season-low 59 rushing yards against Alabama.

''If we can run it for 241 this week, I'll feel good,'' Sanders said. ''I'll take 241 and take my chances.''

With Houston back near his pre-injury form, Tennessee's ground game is finally showing signs of life. And, since Miami allows 172 rushing yards per game, the Hurricanes could be vulnerable to the run this week.

''We haven't stopped the run in a couple of games,'' Miami head man Larry Coker said. ''That doesn't bode well for us because I know Tennessee runs the ball awfully well.... They have some great running backs. I know I tried to recruit Cedric (Houston) to our school.''


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