Butch Jones isn’t too concerned with Tennessee’s 2.8 yards-per-carry average against Utah State.
The overall lack of efficiency in the run game did bother him, however.
“I don’t look at averages, I look at run efficiency,” Jones said. “What is the definition of an efficient run? An efficient run is four yards or more, or if it is second-and-short or third-and-short you get the first down. Because your average rush or yards per carry could be misconstrued because you could have one 80-yard run and then the rest you are below average.
“But when you look at the average it looks good. I am more interested in realistic statistics which is run efficiency and I didn’t think we did a very good job there. We have to be able to run a little bit more.”
It’s understandable that the run game wasn’t clicking in midseason form. It was, after all, the debut of many important parts of the ground game. There were five new starters on the offensive line, a new starter at tight end and last year’s starting running back Rajion Neal was replaced by the duo of Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd.
Only one player who started the final game of 2013 (Pig Howard), started the opener against Utah State. That means it’ll take time for this unit to gel and Jones noted that all 11 will have to be more in sync if the Vols are to find more room on the ground.
“When you look at your run game, it is all 11 individuals working together as one,” Jones said. “There were about eight incidences where we were running the football, and we were one block away from a big play. A lot of times it’s your backside cutoffs, your lineman not being on the proper defender. You have to be disciplined and stay low with your pad level.
“It’s not just the offensive line. Sometimes, it may be the tight end on a combination block. It could be the back not making the proper read or the quarterback keeping it. There were a lot of single breakdowns. We are working to get that corrected.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian thought his unit was close, but not quite there in the run game. He hopes another week of preparation and the jump that is generally made between the first and second game is enough to help the Vols find that next level.
“We focused on the details – technique, blocks at the second level,” Bajakian said of how the Vols are working on improving their efficiency. “As much as anything, we were 50 percent efficient in the run game. Our goal is 58 to 60 percent. The thing that I want to see more of is, frankly, explosive runs. We didn’t have any runs greater than 12 yards and that’s what an explosive run is for us. We had a bunch of 4-and-5 yard runs that were effective for the downs and distances that we were calling, but we just need to get more when we get to the second level.”
Arkansas State will be a good barometer for how much the Vols have improved their efficiency. The Red Wolves held Montana State, an FCS opponent, to just 2.0 yards per carry in their opener, but, overall, their defensive front is replacing a lot from a unit that gave up almost 5.0 yards per carry in 2013.
Tennessee should have a good chance to improve that overall efficiency on Saturday.
“It’s just the first game,” Lane said. “We have that game under the belt. We’re just ready for this week.”