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Run game ‘secret behind the sauce’ for Tennessee offense

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Josh Heupel’s offense is based off of two things — tempo and spread concepts. Heupel looks for numbers advantages all over the field, then uses tempo to take advantage of those situations. And it’s not always just in the passing game. In fact, most of it goes through the run game.

Heupel’s offenses ranked inside the top five in total offense during his time at UCF, and his rushing attacks were all also near the top of the ranks.

“The run game is really where everything starts for us,” Heupel said on Wednesday. “One, it’s important to just set the tone of the football game. I think it’s really hard on your offensive line if you drop back all the time. Sets up all of your play-action passes as well, which is a big part of what we do.”

Heupel’s UCF rushing attack was ranked 27th in the country last season, sparking a unit that finished 2nd overall in total offense in the FBS.

So far at Tennessee, the rushing attack has probably been better than you think it has, at least according to the numbers. The Vols are 34th in the nation in rushing, putting up over 200 yards per game on the ground. Tiyon Evans leads the way with just over 200 yards rushing, while Jabari Small checks in with 194. Both players have missed a game of action to this point, while starting center Cooper Mays has missed two.

Both quarterbacks, Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton, have also been heavily involved in the rushing attack. Milton particularly on the goalline, as we saw him score twice on the ground against Bowling Green.

“Dating back to Missouri, the success in the ground game there was an integral part of setting up the pass game with Drew (Lock),” Heupel said. “And everywhere that we’ve been. I think our passing numbers at times have gotten a ton of exposure, because there’s been a high success rate there. But the secret behind the sauce is really the run game for us.”

The offense really has yet to settle in, and they haven’t been helped by all the early injuries. But when they do, expect this ground game to really get going. We saw some flashes against a good front in Gainesville last weekend, as both Evans and Small went for 50+ yards on the ground.

Tennessee has a chance to really spark their rushing attack this weekend, facing Missouri’s 129th ranked rushing defense. The Tigers have given up 269 yards per game so far, giving the Volunteers a clear area of weakness to attack on Saturday.

Missouri and Tennessee are set for a noon ET kickoff, live on SEC Network.