Tennessee's three-pronged rushing attack makes the Vols dangerous
The Tennessee Volunteers are a popular dark-horse pick to win the SEC, and while Alabama may still be the best team in the conference, Tennessee’s depth of talent makes it easy to see why they’re expected to have a big season.
On defense, Derek Barnett has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the nation, but it’s on offense where the Volunteers can really give teams problems this year, with a three-headed rushing attack consisting of quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.
How does this trio give Tennessee one of he toughest running games to defend? Let’s take a look.
Joshua Dobbs is one of the best running QBs in the country
As a passer Dobbs, left a lot to be desired in his sophomore and junior seasons. What he did well in both seasons, however, was run the ball. He finished 2015 as our 10th-highest-graded returning quarterback as a runner, rushing for 816 yards and 11 touchdowns. What’s impressive is that only 187 of those yards came on quarterback scrambles, with Dobbs actually built well into the offense on designed runs.
He forced 45 missed tackles on 125 carries, averaging 4.5 yards after contact per carry. To put that in perspective, our elusive rating looks at how tough a running back is to bring down, taking into account missed tackles and yards after contact to give a clearer picture of production and big play ability than yards alone. UCLA’s Paul Perkins lead running backs last year with an elusive rating of 114.7. Joshua Dobb’s elusive rating comes in at 160.9.
In short, he was incredibly difficult to bring down, which lead to big plays like this one:
Jalen Hurd can emerge as one of the best running backs
When we’re talking about the best running backs in the SEC, Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb are the go-to names. There’s good reason for as they’ve both been outstanding, but Tennessee’s Hurd has the potential to enter that conversation this year. He’s graded well over the past two seasons, rushing for 2,186 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns.
At 6-3 and 227 pounds, he’s a big physical runner who can run over defenders if he has to, with 65 missed tackles forced on 275 carries last year, while averaging 2.9 yards after contact per carry. He’s been pretty consistent in each of the past two seasons, averaging 4.7 yards per carry in both years, though he did have a higher elusive rating (79.1) in 2014 than 2015 (68.1). His 2015 number was still good enough to rank seventh among returning running backs in the SEC though, so it’s not as if this is an area where he struggles.
He’s also a pretty solid breakaway threat, with 16 runs of 15 yards or more in 2015, ranking fourth among returning running backs in the SEC. He does need to become a little bit more productive here, with those 16 runs accounting for 29.4 percent of his carries, ranking ninth among returning running backs in the SEC. The flip side to that is he still averaged 4.7 yards a carry — so was doing a lot of damage on a per-snap basis instead of relying on a couple of big runs to buoy his average.
Alvin Kamara makes this a one-two-three punch
Most colleges in the nation would be happy to have a one-two punch in the backfield, either with a power runner and a shiftier speedster, or a solid running back and running quarterback combo. With Hurd and Dobbs alone the Volunteers would have the later, but they also boast a third talented player in the backfield in Alvin Kamara.
Often the forgotten man when people talk about the Tennessee backfield, Kamara was really productive in 2015. He played just 338 snaps, but graded at +23.0, with positives grades as a runner, receivers and pass blocker. He forced 28 missed tackles on just 106 carries, averaged 6.6 yards per carry, with 3.8 of those yards coming after contact. That all gave him an elusive rating of 109.2, ranking fifth in the nation among returning running backs, and coming with a better elusive rating than Leonard Fournette, Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook, to name just three.
In fact, while he’s almost definitely the least well-known of the running backs in Tennessee, you could make the case that he’s a better player than Jalen Hurd given how he’s performed, admittedly in a more limited role.
Regardless of who the better of the two are, the fact that the Volunteers have two of the most talented runners in the SEC — coupled with one of the most dangerous running QBs in the nation — gives defenses a three-pronged attack that will be very tough to deal with, and may even be enough to propel them towards the College Football Playoff.