The Vols went into their match-up with Kentucky missing star running back John Kelly. Many Vol fans wondered if Tennessee’s young backups, specifically true freshman Ty Chandler, would be able to shoulder the load without Kelly there.
Not only did Chandler answer the bell, but he had a breakout game.
Chandler totaled 120 rushing yards and two scores in 22 carries in his first career start for the Vols. He also caught two passes for 33 yards, giving him a team-high 153 all-purpose yards in the game. In fact, Chandler’s big night could’ve been even bigger had his 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter stood up. But a holding call on Josh Smith brought back that play.
Even without that play, Chandler put together a great first career start. But his superb play-making ability in this game begs the question: Why hasn’t he gotten more playing time this season?
John Kelly deserves to be the lead back for the Vols. He deserves to get the bulk of the carries. But Saturday’s game showed that there was no reason for Kelly to monopolize the backfield like he had been the first half of this season.
Butch Jones and his staff almost exclusively gave the ball to Kelly for the first seven games of this season. Before Chandler’s 22 carry performance on Saturday (and Carlin File-Aime’s 13 carries as well), Kelly had carried the ball 70.6 percent of the time for the Vols this season (not counting quarterback carries and sacks). Not only that, but Kelly had the most receptions on the team and the second-most receiving yards as well.
Ty Chandler came into the Kentucky game averaging a mere 4.9 touches a game. The most touches the true freshman had received in a game up until Saturday was just nine against Florida.
Granted, Kentucky’s run defense had been torched in the weeks leading up to their match-up with Tennessee. The Wildcats had allowed nearly 500 rushing yards combined to Missouri and Mississippi State in their previous two games, and they gave up 203 yards on the ground to Tennessee.
Chandler wouldn’t have put up huge numbers like that against teams like Georgia and Alabama this season. But he deserved more touches to spell Kelly and provide a different style of play to change things up. And his play on Saturday proved that he had been underutilized to this point in the season.
Maybe now Chandler will receive more snaps in the last month of play for Tennessee. But it might be too late for his skill set to make much of a difference for a Tennessee football season that is quickly falling off the rails.