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JD PicKell: How Tennessee’s run game contributes to ‘QB friendly’ perception

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JD PicKell: How Tennessee’s run game contributes to ‘QB friendly’ perception

Tennessee exploded onto the college football scene in coach Josh Heupel‘s second season in charge in 2022, featuring an offense that could move the ball at will. But what doesn’t always get enough credit is the Tennessee run game.

As On3’s JD PicKell explains, the Tennessee run game is part and parcel to the high-flying offense Heupel runs.

“They run the football, that’s what Tennessee does, man,” PicKell explained. “They’re a run-first operation. They ran the ball 55% of the time last year. They want to pound the rock. That’s the other thing that comes into Tennessee being a quarterback-friendly offense. When you run the football effectively then the defense has to commit more resources.”

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The Volunteers finished with the top scoring offense and total offense in the country, aided by the fifth-ranked passing attack nationally.

The run game wasn’t quite as high up in the rankings, checking in at No. 26, but it was plenty effective. The Tennessee run game accounted for 199.5 yards per game.

And it was the run game that gave quarterback Hendon Hooker the freedom to pick apart opposing secondaries.

“As a quarterback, if we’re running the ball well those safeties and those other defenders on the back end, then they have to start deciding, OK, do we want to play the pass or play the run?” PicKell said. “The DC is probably saying, ‘Listen, if we lose it’s not going to be because they ran for 300 yards on us, you better go help in that run game.’ So the safety says, ‘All right, I’ll go help them out, coach.’

“Then Joe Milton or Hendon Hooker or whoever’s back there starts running their hands together and saying, ‘All right, you want to come play in the box that’s fine, but look behind you. Lot of green grass. Lot of green gas for my guys to go and make some plays for.’ So running the football also factors into Tennessee being a quarterback friendly system. So spacing, pace, they pound the rock. All three things that make for quarterback friendly.”

The scary part?

The Tennessee run game returns the top four backs from a year ago, with Jaylen Wright (875 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Jabari Small (734 yards, 13 touchdowns) leading the way.

Only one team last fall was really able to truly slow the Volunteers down.

“Tennessee fans are not going to like hearing this, but that’s why Georgia was able to beat Tennessee,” PicKell said. “Georgia was able to, one, just play more honest in the trenches, they didn’t have to commit extra resources. They were able to win the line of scrimmage. And then on the back end they had guys that could have a better percentage chance of hanging with those receivers at Tennessee.”

But there’s no reason the Tennessee run game shouldn’t be just as effective this fall, and that means more trouble for opposing defenses.

The post JD PicKell: How Tennessee’s run game contributes to ‘QB friendly’ perception appeared first on On3.

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