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Tennessee RB John Kelly draws high praise from Alabama’s Nick Saban

Saban knows all about Kelly.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

If Tennessee can hang their hat on one thing this year, it’s standout running back John Kelly. He’s proven to be the heart and soul of this football team. His efforts against Georgia Tech and Florida were unreal.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban recognizes that.

"I think he's a really dynamic player, probably the best running back we’ve played all year long," Saban said on Wednesday. "I think he's one of the best running backs in the SEC.”

"I think they do a great job of utilizing him, not only as a runner, but he's an outstanding receiver as well. He's probably the most productive offensive player that we've seen to this point, especially at his position,” Saban continued.

Kelly has produced 552 yards on the ground on 113 carries to this point, checking in just south of five yards per carry. When the ground game isn’t working, Larry Scott tries to find Kelly in the passing game, as Saban said.

Tennessee has really used Kelly in the screen game in an attempt to get him in space. That strategy worked against Georgia Tech and Florida, but it has been slowed since. Still, Kelly has 24 grabs on the season for 250 more yards. He currently leads the Vols in targets and receptions.

All of this to say — John Kelly is the Tennessee offense. I thought the staff did a nice job of working in some opportunities for Ty Chandler last week, too.

The problem in all this is that opposing teams know everything I just told you. They know what’s coming and to this point, they really haven’t had to worry about too much else in the Tennessee offense.

You saw what the emergence of a Marquez Callaway meant to this team against Georgia Tech, but the quarterback issues have made it tough to keep him involved.

Until they get any consistency at quarterback, it’s going to be tough sledding for this offensive group, which is unfortunate for Kelly. He’s one of the best backs in the country, but there’s almost no way for Tennessee to take the spotlight off of him. He’s going to be facing plenty of eight man boxes down the stretch.