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Tennessee’s run game has to come to life against Mississippi State

It’s a must on Saturday — and for the rest of the season.

Georgia v Tennessee Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Outside of an impressive showing against BYU, the Tennessee run game hasn’t taken off like Jim Chaney and Jeremy Pruitt had hoped. The offensive line has improved in pass protection, but has struggled at the line of scrimmage when run blocking.

Tennessee is averaging just 3.95 yards per carry on the year, good for last in the SEC. They sit 90th in rushing yards per game in the FBS, which just isn’t good enough to consistently win games at this level.

Ty Chandler’s 5.4 yards per carry looks good on the surface, but game-script hasn’t allowed him to get much work with the Volunteers falling behind Florida and Georgia early on.

“I think it is every week, you need to be able to run the football,” Jeremy Pruitt said on Wednesday. “There’s probably been one game that we really got it going, but if you look at our yards per carry — it is much improved. We have to continue to do that.”

Facing Florida, Georgia or Alabama fronts present an understandable challenge for Tennessee, which is still trying to rebuild its offensive line. But softer matchups are on the way, one of which being Mississippi State this weekend.

The Bulldogs have the 71st ranked rush defense in the country after sending Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons to the NFL. After facing Georgia’s top five rush defense last weekend, maybe Tennessee can find a little daylight on Saturday afternoon.

“It is hard to have success offensively if you can’t run the football,” Pruitt said. “You can look every week and the teams that have success running it, it opens up the things when they throw the football. If you can’t run the football, it’s hard to have success offensively as a football team. You’ve got to find a way to do that.”

Tennessee did find a little success against Georgia without getting much from the run game. But that didn’t last. Georgia clamped down in the second half, ramping up the pressure on Brian Maurer and forcing him into a couple of mistakes.

One thing to be concerned about? Tennessee’s only successful day on the ground came against BYU, which ranks just 119th against the run. Jim Chaney has to be hoping that improved quarterback play might boost the run game and clear out some of those loaded boxes.

Something to watch this week is the re-emergence of running back Tim Jordan, who ended up leading Tennessee in rushing yards last week. Jordan is finally back to full strength after sustaining an injury against Georgia State.

If Tennessee wants to make a little noise in the second half of the season, Jim Chaney’s run game has to get going. They’ve got a decent opportunity to jumpstart it this weekend.