It has been tough sledding up-front for the Volunteers this season. Coming into Saturday the Vols had failed to rush for more than 100-yards in three of their four match-ups against FBS teams — including against Georgia State. In SEC play rushing yards have been even harder to come by. The Vols managed just 158-yards rushing against Florida and Georgia combined — although, to be fair, both of those teams currently rank in the top-30 nationally in terms of rushing defense.
Despite these early season struggles Tennessee’s offensive line has improved significantly, especially compared to where they were a season ago. It was only a matter of time before the running game got going. And, on Saturday against Mississippi State, the running game indeed got going. The Vols gained 190-yards on the ground and averaged over four-yards per carry. The most important run of the game was Tim Jordan’s 15-yard touchdown scamper. Tennessee jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, and never relinquished control. We’ll look at how it all happened.
The Vols marched on a fairly conservative drive to the Mississippi State 15-yard line, where they faced second down and three yards to go. Tennessee broke the huddle with their 12-personnel and aligned with a tight-end and a wing to the same side of the formation. The Bulldogs are in their standard 4-2-5 personnel, aligned in an ‘Under’ front. They snuck their Nickel player to the outside shoulder of our wing, Austin Pope. This creates five defenders on the line of scrimmage, and two linebackers. This is important because the blocking assignments up front depend entirely on the defense’s alignment. Based on the alignment below the offensive will consider this an ‘Odd’ front — in other words, basically a 3-4 in structure.
Tennessee has a gap-scheme running play called. It is basically the old-school ‘Power’ play, but without a pulling guard. The left side of the line will block out on the defenders aligned on their outside shoulders. The wing, Austin Pope, is to kick out the defensive end — in this case the ‘Star.’ The Center, Right Guard, Right Tackle, and Tight End will create double teams to get an initial push and then scrape off to the linebackers. Below is a look at what should happen on the play.
Next is a look just after the snap. As has been discussed previously Tennessee has a very strong tendency to run in the direction of Austin Pope. Fortunately, our play call catches the Bulldog linemen slanting hard away from Pope. The linebackers, on the other hand, are working a little too strongly in his direction.
The defensive flow allows for relatively easy blocks for the offensive line. Now, that’s not to say that their job is easy, but that because of leverage they more or less just need to get in the way — get their “butt in the hole” as offensive line coaches like to say. Ryan Johnson and Dominick Wood-Anderson are able to scrape off their double team and seal the linebackers to the outside. Brandon Kennedy and Darnell Wright manage to continue driving the defensive linemen out of the way. The result is a perfect seam that Tim Jordan is able to hit, leaving him one-on-one with the safety.
The safety, quite frankly, had no chance against Jordan with a full head of steam. He bullies his way in for the score, and the Pride of the Southland band started to play.
Alabama is obviously in a league of their own, and it’s unlikely that Tennessee will have as much success running the ball next Saturday as they did last Saturday. However, there is much to be optimistic about regarding the development of the offensive line. If they can continue to execute like this up front a bowl berth is not out of the question. And, while that may seem meaningless to some, one more game for the seniors — and extra practices for this young squad — would go quite a long way.