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Jeremy Pruitt talks run game, how it can be fixed

It’s not just the offensive line.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Through five games, Tennessee ranks 66th in rushing yards per game. The Vols, under the direction of new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, have put up 177 yards per contest on the ground so far. However, that number drops significantly if you take away the 345 yards gained against a really bad UTEP team.

Tennessee ran for just 66 yards last week against Georgia. They ran for 156 against Florida, but that took 54 attempts to get, coming out to an average of 2.9 yards per carry. If you’ve watched Tennessee play at all this year, you know that the rushing game simply isn’t where it needs to be.

For Jeremy Pruitt, it’s about both the offensive line and the running backs for Tennessee. During Wednesday’s media availability, Pruitt laid out what has to change to fix that lagging rushing attack.

“It goes back to execution,” Pruitt said of the offensive line. “You know, not having mental errors, stepping with the right foot. The most important thing is to not get beat across your face. It’s just common sense. Things like that. We’ve got to continue to improve on that, guys have to have a better understanding. We need to play with better pad level and get a better push and the backs need to knock the holes forward.”

Offensive line coach Will Friend and Tyson Helton are in year one of installing a totally new offensive scheme in Knoxville, so the growing pains were always expected. At some point though, progress needs to be shown.

“We’ve got to block the big guys,” Pruitt said. “One of the most important things in the run game is blocking the big guys. Most of the time when the big guys tackle the back, they go backwards. If we can get them to the second level, to the linebackers, to the secondary, the back should be falling forward. So now you’re talking about three yard plus gains.”

According to Pruitt, it’s not totally all on the offensive line either.

“The two times that we created explosive plays (against Georgia), we got (Ty Chandler) to the second level and he made a guy miss,” Pruitt said. “But then there’s probably three other times in the game Saturday where we got him to the second level and the first guy there knocked him down. So all of our backs, not just Ty, we’ve got to make the first guy miss.”

The defensive fronts don’t get much easier for Tennessee in the next two games. Auburn ranks eighth in the nation against the run, while Alabama ranks 42nd. Although, the Crimson Tide have hardly been challenged, meaning they’ve largely played reserves in the second half of their games to this point.

Those two games likely aren’t the best measuring stick for this rushing attack. But games down the stretch against South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt? That’s where I’d like to see some steps taken forward.