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Vol Fans Find Hope in the Spring Ground Game

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As Incipient_Senescence suggested in RTT's Orange and White Game recap, you have to be cautious about what you conclude from the spring game. That said, we're all hoping that there's truly something to the seemingly improved running game. After all, rushing the football was the thing we did worst in 2011, and that was just the last in a long line of inadequate-to-downright-awful rushing seasons and the generally downward trend that started it.

So go ahead and take some solace in the results of Saturday's game. The unit that averaged 2.7 yards per carry last fall averaged 5.6 on Saturday. Marlin Lane put up 106 yards and two TDs on only nine carries (and had 226 all-purpose yards). Rajion Neal had 10 for 49 and a TD, Devrin Young had 8 for 42, and Tom Smith had 10 for 49. That's 168 rushing yards for one team and 83 for the other, and the fact that all of the backs looked pretty good seems to indicate that the offensive line had a great deal to do with the scrimmage success. Derek Dooley, by the way, says that Lane's Orange and White Game performance didn't lock up the starting gig for him. The competition for that will continue in the fall and will include incoming RB Davante Bourque. Let's hope the success does as well.

Of course, you do have to wonder how much of Saturday's success on the ground was attributable to a defense that is learning a new scheme from an entirely new coaching staff. Dooley hinted at this when he said Lane's surprise TD right before halftime (when his instructions were to get five yards and turn it over to the field goal unit) "was bad defense more than anything."

Still, he's also right when he says that even though you can't feel too good about rushing success in the spring game, you'd rather see success than not. So we'll take it, because really, things should be better this year. The team is finally close to a full roster of 85 scholarship players, and the o-line that had three starts in 2010 now has 99. Tyler Bray, who was already very good, is maturing and taking things seriously. Da'Rick Rogers is doing the same, Justin Hunter is on track with his rehab, there are several more promising WRs due to arrive in the fall, and the tight ends are productive. And the secondary at least seems to be in good hands with Brian Randolph.

The team still has issues, no doubt. The defense is facing a huge learning curve and a very short time frame. Critical mistakes in critical situations must be corrected. And what in the world are they going to do about the kickers?

But things should be better in 2012, and while it doesn't necessarily follow that success on the ground in the spring means success on the ground in the fall, it at least gives you hope.