Last year, Jeremy Pruitt was adamant about the importance of the running game. It was obvious that he wanted to instill a physical, effective ground game as the backbone of the offense.
Well, that didn’t necessarily happen as the Vols finished with the 113th-best ground game in the country, however, they were able to figure out that running back Ty Chandler is the team’s best playmaker in the backfield - and possibly on the entire offense.
The junior back possess a rare combination of elite speed, elusiveness, receiving ability, and vision. His versatility is hard to match and allows him to line up all over the field in order to find an advantage for the offense.
To put it into context, the Vols averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 129 yards per game on the ground in 2018. Chandler himself averaged around 52.5 ypg and 5.5 ypc on the ground in 11 games. He was responsible for 66% of the Vols’ total rushing production when compared to what the rest of their running backs produced. He also finished fourth on the team with 19 receptions and yards, while tying for first in receiving touchdowns.
The rest of Tennessee’s backs finished with a combined 233 carries for 949 yards, which was good for around 4.1 ypc.
Tennessee’s next-best back in terms of rushing yardage, Tim Jordan, finished with more carries (122 to 115), but Chandler finished with more yards (630 to 522). Jordan, Jeremy Banks, Madre London, and Carlin Fils-Aime recorded a combined 16 catches for 131 yards and no touchdowns.
All of those traits and numbers are what make him one of the most important players on this team. Without Chandler in the backfield, the Volunteer offense is bound to take a step back in the “explosive” department.
And it’s no question that this team needs all the help it can get in terms of becoming an explosive - or even somewhat explosive - offense. Sure, the Vols have good players backing him up, but none of them can do what Chandler can do with the ball in his hands.
Jordan is more of an in-between-the-tackles, power runner who isn’t afraid of contact. He can break it to the outside every now and then and can also catch, but you can’t line up him out wide or in the slot to create mismatches like you can with Chandler. I mean, in theory you could, but no defense is going to take Jordan as a serious threat in that situation.
Jeremy Banks will be another power guy, but Eric Gray - the Vols freshman back - has shown explosive ability during his high school days. He doesn’t have elite speed like Chandler, but he can move in space and has the ability to make big plays.
But we don’t know if that game will translate to the college level. This is the SEC we are talking about and while Gray is very talented, it’s hard for freshman backs to have immediate success, especially with a questionable offensive line.
Losing Chandler would create yet more questions on offense, which is something this program has known too well over the past couple of seasons.
Full disclosure, I don’t want to know what life is like without Chandler in the backfield.
And neither do the Vols.