To the surprise of no one, Tennessee running back Eric Gray has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week following his performance against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Gray came into Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt with just 207 rushing yards on 62 carries in Tennessee’s first 11 games of the season. Gray had yet to run for a touchdown in his debut season with the Vols as well.
All of that changed against Vanderbilt.
The Vols’ highly-touted freshman running back put up a historic performance in Tennessee’s 28-10 victory over the Commodores. Not only did Gray run for his first career rushing touchdown, but he rushed for three of them on 25 carries in addition to 246 rushing yards. Gray’s 246 yards on the ground broke the school record for most rushing yards in a single game by a true freshman running back. The previous record by a UT freshman was held by Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 232 yards against Georgia in 1997. Gray also became the 13th different Vol ever to run for at least 200 yards in a game, recording the 19th such instance in school history.
Only three other Vols in school history have ever run for more yards than Gray in a single game. Chuck Webb holds the No. 1 and No. 2 rushing marks in Tennessee’s record books, totaling 294 yards against Ole Miss in 1989 and 250 yards against Arkansas in 1990. Tony Thompson ran for 248 yards against Mississippi State in 1990 as well, and Johnnie Jones totaled 248 yards too, doing so against Vanderbilt in 1983.
Otherwise, no other Vol running backs have run for more yards in a game than Gray did on Saturday. In fact, Gray is only the fourth Tennessee running back to run for over 200 yards in a game since 2000.
It had been 14 years since a Tennessee running back had eclipsed 200 rushing yards in a game. The last back to do so was Arian Foster in 2005 when he torched Vanderbilt for 223 yards.
Gray had two huge runs to help him get that 246 yards, too. The freshman got the scoring going for Tennessee with a 56-yard scamper into the end zone in the first half. Later that half, Gray showed off his vision, speed, and explosiveness with a 94-yard dash into the end zone for his second-career rushing touchdown. That 94-yard run is the second-longest run in UT history.
Not only did Gray rack up a ton of yards, but he racked up a lot of touchdowns, too. The freshman scored three rushing touchdowns against Vanderbilt, marking the first time since 2017 that a Tennessee running back had ran for three or more scores in a single game. John Kelly also ran for three touchdowns in the Vols’ season opener against Georgia Tech in 2017.
Tennessee was able to run for nearly 300 yards as a team on Saturday, and Gray was the biggest reason why. He’s just the latest Vol to be given a weekly SEC award, too. Tennessee has now had at least one player earn an SEC Player of the Week honor in their last five games, which have all been wins.