Eric Gray entered the day with 207 rushing yards on the season. He finished the season with more than double that number.
The freshman running back was only playing because Ty Chandler was banged up, but he made the most of his opportunity. Tennessee started slow offensively with Tim Jordan in the backfield, but everything changed once Gray got his chance.
Tennessee’s offense came to life with a couple of huge runs from Gray, who put the game out of reach in the first half. The offensive line was blowing Vanderbilt off the line of scrimmage and Gray was capitalizing.
This 94 yard touchdown run is the longest in SEC history by a freshman. It was the longest Tennessee touchdown run in 42 years.
Eric Gray with the Kelsey Finch. Second-longest run in Tennessee history.— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) November 30, 2019
Vols freshman tailback had just 207 yards and zero TDs coming into today's game.
Has 171 yards and two scores already in first half vs. Vandy. pic.twitter.com/y6EfPvFR5l
Gray is the first Tennessee back to go for over 200 yards in a single game since Arian Foster against Vanderbilt in 2005. He ended with 246 yards on the day — the 5th greatest single rushing performance in Tennessee history.
“You think about that, a record at the University of Tennessee,” Pruitt said of Gray. “Think of all the good runners that’s come through here, and that says a whole heck of a lot about everybody involved, starting with the quarterback getting us in the right plays, with the offensive staff doing a heck of a job game-planning, the front, the tight ends, the wide receivers blocking downfield finishing runs. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Gray signed with Tennessee after decommitting from Michigan in the 2019 cycle. The four-star back was a top 100 player and a three time Mr. Football winner in the state of Tennessee. 11 months after signing with the Vols, he’s all over the Tennessee record books.
His performance begs the question — why didn’t Gray get to play more this season? Gray played in the first few games and really flashed, but never really got consistent opportunities once Tim Jordan returned from injury.
Pruitt explained why after the game.
“Eric has plenty of ability,” Pruitt said. “Lots of times, it comes to opportunities. You earn those opportunities in practice. With Ty and Tim, that’s a competitive room. Probably with the way the season went, to me, I thought Eric probably in the middle part of the season maybe lost a step. Happens lots of times to freshmen. Get a little wore down. He’s playing against bigger men, just the day-to-day grind. But over the last probably couple of weeks, he kind of looked like his old self and had a little more pep in his step and it showed today.”
Tennessee still has a bowl game left to play, so it will be interesting to see how the staff handles the workload in that one. The entire backfield is expected to return in 2020, so the Vols won’t be short on options there.
For Gray though, it sure seems like he made a pretty compelling case for a few more carries no matter who is healthy for the bowl game.