Back in early May of this year, new Vols defensive coordinator Bob Shoop proudly promised that “nobody would run on Tennessee” this season.
But through 10 games this season, Shoop’s claims couldn’t be farther from reality.
Shoop: `We’re very committed. We’re going to stop the run. Nobody will run the FB on the Orange Swarm. Nobody will run the FB on Tennessee.’
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) May 3, 2016
Tennessee has been torched by opposing rushing attacks all year. The Vols are giving up an average of 216.8 rushing yards per game this season, and that number has skyrocketed over the last month. The Vols allowed Texas A&M to run for 353 yards, Alabama to rack up 409 rushing yards, and Kentucky to pile up 443 yards this past Saturday. Those three teams have combined to run for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns against the Vols.
Remember Sal Sunseri’s infamous defense in 2012? Even they didn’t allow this many rushing yards per game. That 2012 squad gave up an average of 188.8 rushing yards a game. Even the 2013 defense that let Auburn run for 444 yards on them didn’t give up this many yards per contest. The 2013 defense allowed 207.3 rushing yards per game.
So what’s been the problem? Why has Bob Shoop’s promise to start the season been so woefully inaccurate?
The amount of injuries the Vols have suffered have certainly altered what the defense can do. Losing Jalen Reeves-Maybin for the year, Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Cam Sutton for significant chunks of time, and losing others for long periods or for the whole season has drastically affected the makeup of this defense. But Kirkland Jr. and Sutton were active and on the field again when Kentucky roasted Tennessee’s defense on Saturday.
One thing is for certain: The players are tired of it happening.
“It’s unacceptable, and we understand that,” defensive end LaTroy Lewis said after the Kentucky game. Kirkland Jr. echoed those sentiments, saying he was “frustrated with our performance, with how many yards we gave up.”
In the words of safety Micah Abernathy, Kentucky’s rushing performance wasn’t due to the Vols overlooking the Wildcats or some drastic scheme change on Kentucky’s part. It was on Tennessee.
“They’re a good rushing team, but we knew what they were doing,” Abernathy stated. “The big plays that they got, it was on us. It wasn’t anything special.”
LaTroy Lewis believes the same as well.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a specific player or a specific thing that they’re doing to attack us,” Lewis said. “I think it’s more about us than anything. It pretty much comes down to doing our job.”
And it’s not just the players. The head coach has seen the issues too.
“We have to get that corrected,” Butch Jones said about the amount of yards the defense has allowed on the ground. “The rush yards, and the big plays that we gave up in the run game. From the sideline, I think a lot of them were misfits. We missed too many tackles. We’ll get back to work.”
The three teams that have gashed the Vols on the ground this season have been three of the better rushing attacks in the country. Alabama (12th), Kentucky (17th) and Texas A&M (24th) are all in the top 25 for most yards gained on the ground per game this season. But that’s still not an excuse for the Vols allowing the amount of yards they have.
Luckily for Tennessee, their last two regular season opponents aren’t as potent on the ground. Missouri ranks 47th in the country with 191 rushing yards per game, and Vanderbilt ranks 83rd with 157.9 rushing yards a contest. But South Carolina, the worst rushing offense in the SEC, ran for 158 yards on the Vols. That was over 40 yards higher than their season average.
Regardless of how the last two games go, Bob Shoop’s claim to start the season has been as wrong as it could be. Teams have done nothing but run all over the Vols this year.