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John Kelly Can’t Continue to Do it All

Photo by John Golliher/Tennessee Athletics

So far this season, Tennessee’ offense has had only one consistent producer, and that’s been junior running back John Kelly. And the Vols’ offense has relied very heavily on the junior.

But the team can’t keep putting so much on his shoulders if the offense wants to be successful moving forward.

Through five games, John Kelly has amassed 494 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 97 carries while also bringing down 22 receptions for 229 yards. His 723 all-purpose yards are easily the most on the team. The second-highest total for all-purpose yards by a player is 205 by Brandon Johnson. Every other offensive player has less than 200 all-purpose yards.

Kelly’s 494 rushing yards account for 71.8 percent of the team’s rushing total. His 97 carries account for 60.6 percent of the team’s total. No other single player in the Butch Jones era at Tennessee has ever accounted for more than half of the team’s total rushing yards in a season. The closest was Rajion Neal in 2013 when his 1,124 rushing yards were 49.7 percent of the team’s total rushing yards.

Not only that, but Kelly leads the team in receptions and receiving yards too. His 119 total touches on offense are far and away the most by a non-quarterback on the team. Ty Chandlers’ 25 touches are the second-highest total. That means Kelly has nearly 100 more touches than the next most-used player on offense.

If Tennessee wants to find success on offense for the rest of the season, they can’t keep expecting Kelly to do it all. Because it’s already catching up with them.

Defenses have been able to key in on Kelly the past couple weeks, and the Vols’ offense has floundered as a result. Kelly put together an exceptional effort against Florida, but he didn’t get the ball on a carry at the goal line and barely touched it in the red zone period. But ever since then, defenses have been honing in on Kelly, and the Vols’ offense has been stagnant.

UMass, a team that is widely regarded as one of the worst FBS teams in 2017, was even able to hold Kelly to a somewhat disappointing day by his standards. Yes, Kelly totaled 100 rushing yards, but it took him 25 carries against a UMass defense to get his 101 yards. And his two catches actually totaled negative yardage because both were screen plays that were blown up behind the line of scrimmage.

Then there was the Georgia game that saw Kelly turn in his worst performance of the season. The offensive line couldn’t block, and Kelly could only do so much on his own. And if not for a 44-yard reception (that ultimately ended with a fumble), his numbers would look even worse.

Kelly managed just 44 rushing yards on 16 carries against Georgia. And he totaled 47 receiving yards on four catches, but 44 of those yards came on one catch.

Not only has Kelly struggled to produce up to par the last couple games, but Tennessee’s offense has too. The Vols managed just 17 points against UMass and were shutout against Georgia. The Vols totaled 319 offensive yards against UMass and only just 142 yards against Georgia.

Tennessee’s offense has struggled all season to find consistency. But it’s been far worse over the last two weeks because defenses know that John Kelly is the only weapon Tennessee’s coaches seem to trust right now. And he’s the only one consistently running his assignments correctly as well.

The Vols need another running back to step up and shoulder some of the load for Kelly. Tennessee also needs better offensive line play for whichever quarterback is taking snaps so that they can have more time to find receivers. And the young receiving corps needs to play more consistently by running correct routes and hanging on to passes.

In short, the Vols’ offense is a mess right now except for Kelly. And that needs to change if there’s any hope of a turnaround for this season.

John Kelly has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Vols to start this season. He’s on pace to leave his name in the record books at Tennessee. But he can’t keep doing it all if the Vols want to find success down the stretch.

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