Gun or Run?

Buffalo Bulls vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Saturday 1 October 2011 | 12:30 pm EDT
Neyland Stadium | Knoxville, TN | Comcast Sports South, ESPN3.com
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I probably have a most peculiar view of Saturday’s game: I am fascinated to see how Derek Dooley and his staff approach this dud on the schedule.

The Vols have some massive problems. They are quite young, not very deep in any sense of SEC competitive quality in critical areas, and have exhibited some glaring holes in their game during the first part of the schedule. And, they have the Schedule from Hell coming up later this month.

But first, a cupcake on Saturday.

So how does Dooley look at his situation, from the perspectives of the upcoming schedule and quality of play/personnel?

***

We’ll focus on the offense.

There are two basic end members here: the passing game and the running game.

The Vols have exhibited some world-class play while throwing the ball so far. However, Justin Hunter is gone for the season, leaving even the most faithful with massive doubt. And, the Vols have shown one of the worst running attacks I have seen by a team wearing orange and white.

So what do you do this coming Saturday?

That depends on what you think it will take to defeat compete against Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina in the coming weeks. It also depends on what you think about particular personnel.

***

Dooley is a coach who was bred and tutored within the philosophy of rushing dominance wins football games.

Many believe the running game is broken. Dooley is more optimistic (cautiously).

“We need to run the ball better. It’s that simple. We’re in the day and age to try to dissect everything. At the end of the day, we need to line up, snap the ball, block the man in front of us and run the ball better reading our keys. That’s what we’ve got to do.”

This means that Dooley believes they really can improve in the short term. But what if the personnel involved simply aren’t good enough?

The likes of Travis Stephens running the ball for the Big Orange are a distant memory. Jaime Squire/Getty Images.

Let’s face it. Tennessee’s ground game is vanilla – it has shown no semblance of creativity. One possible reason for that is that the quality of personnel is not sufficient to infuse the rushing attack with anything but off-tackle plays and the like.

You have to be quick, fast, and have a good read of the game to be able to run outside. That goes for the RBs as well as the OL.

We are none of that. Tauren Poole rushed for 1,000 yards last season. That mark frankly flatters his overall game. For a starting SEC running back, Poole is slow and ponderous, with very little quickness and a lack of burst speed and power.

Devrin Young has a broken collar-bone. Marlin Lane? Rajion Neal? Tom Smith? Jaron Toney?

And, Buffalo, for all their mediocrity and worse, has a decent defense against the run.

***

The offensive line. Young, yes. But to listen to their interview comments, they are “confused.” That’s what they all said last year as freshmen. I really don’t like to beat on people, especially college kids. But, I fear that this frontline crew is basically soft – they don’t have the physical and mental toughness that it takes to compete with the best of the SEC.

A lot of attention has been paid to how our OL is much better at pass blocking than run blocking. Which leads to a pretty obvious idea.

Why not let Bray and Co. wing it all over Shields Watkins Field?

Justin Hunter’s absence be damned. Bray connected to about a dozen different receivers in Gainesville two weeks ago after Hunter’s early exit. This brings massive opportunity.

So, instead of trying to “fix” the running game, how about advancing the passing game by experimenting with a multiple of passing schemes and personnel?

***

I do not believe for a single minute that the running game is “fixable” to the extent needed to cause damage in the next four weeks. Therefore, I believe to maximize our chance to pull an upset this season for that 7-5 or 8-4 mark, the passing game will have to carry us there. Running the ball in the aggregate will get us nowhere.

Dooley will not heed such advice. And he is right not to. As a head coach, I don’t believe he can throw the rushing game under the bus. He simply has no choice but to try to coach these kids as much as he possibly can. A season is a process. Dooley wants this process to progress to what he knows it will take to eventually be a consistent winner.

So look for Saturday to be a bit of a pig’s breakfast: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a lot of different folks seeing some playing time.

If nothing else (which has to include a win), it will be maddening, frustrating, and in part exhilarating as the Vols will roll to a 3-1 record. Pretty will not describe it. But hopefully, we will gain discover a measure of toughness upon which we will need to rely in the upcoming weeks.

Tennessee 38  Buffalo 7

Go Vols!

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12 responses to “Gun or Run?”

  1. bert says :

    good game to get ready for the upcoming 4-game
    gauntlet:

    vols 44
    SUNY-Buffalo 17

  2. norcalvol says :

    Glad to have you back, Bertrand.
    That’s right, it is Sooney Buffalo.

  3. rockytop78 says :

    It’s been a long week, and only half of my brain is working at this time; so my left-side pick is the only one that I have:

    Tennessee 49
    Buffalo 14

    As far as the gun vs. run argument, I would “gun” it for the first half and try to get a big lead; then start to bring the run game along after the game is well in hand.

    I recall when Tennessee played Tiger High back in 1996, and our offensive coordinator, David Cutcliffe, put so much emphasis on trying to run the ball — with only middling success — that Tiger High (with the help of the officials, who failed to call a Tiger High kick returner out of bounds, and thereby gave him a runback for a touchdown) not only stayed in the game, but ended up winning it against a Peyton Manning-lead Vols team. We could have put the game away early, IMO, had we unleashed Peyton and our passing attack; but Cutcliffe was so bound and determined to establish the run that it ended up costing us the game.

    I also remember that my wife and I were attending the wedding of a friend’s daughter that evening back in 1996 when we played Memphis State; and all the guys at the church were huddled around someone’s radio listening to the game before the service got started. By the time the service was over, the game had been lost; and the wedding reception afterwards was just miserable: the men were all pissed off about the game, and got drunk and acted surly; and the women were all mad because the men were pissed off and wouldn’t dance with them or have a good time. I felt bad for the married couple, because I figured that nobody would ever remember their wedding and reception without thinking of the UT-Memphis State fiasco. But I guess it didn’t trouble the couple too much, because they’re still married, and they have 6 kids.

    • norcalvol says :

      It’s interesting you bring up Cutcliffe (whom I prayed would not get the job when Kiffin left). There is a fantastic website called Football Outsiders – they are basically football’s answers to baseball’s sabermetrics proponents. One of their first-ever articles was devoted to debunking the myth of “establishing the run.” Their work found that there is no correlation whatsoever between giving your running backs a lot of carries early in the game and winning the game. “Just running the ball is not going to help a team score; it has to run successfully.” This is what drove me crazy about watching Tennessee football under Fulmer – when we had a great OL and backs, we were great at running the ball, and won a lot of ball games. But all that changed toward the end – our personnel was going south and we would have done a lot better throwing the ball more with Ainge… Of course it’s a chicken and egg thing. Typical justification for “establishing the run” is something like “Team X is 5-1 when running back John Doe runs for at least 100 yards.” Well, unless John Doe is ripping off 6-yard gains like a Herschel Walker, the team isn’t winning because of his 100-yard games. He’s putting up 100 yard games because his team is winning.

      My question about the wedding/marriage is – why did they get married on the weekend of a UT football game?

      Give your right brain a rest – I’ll look forward to its thinking next week.

  4. TK says :

    well what a relief not to have to read a “right side brain” pick. and ill tell you what, if that bride was a Vol fan she probably got screwed twice that day! enough! well after picking that florida score right on i felt i would be on a roll,,,,,,then an open date really screws up my rhythm. so here goes a prediction that will make no sense to any of you and will probably be SOOO wrong but………………..VOLS 33, BULLS 22……….wheres hugh, bobber, and the scoop?????

  5. scoop says :

    after leaving the swampy state of FL the VOLS have worked their way back to the home turf of Shields-Watkins field. Dooley has decided to instigate an all out blitz for the offense. However if snaps dont get to Bray it could be a nightmare but if two practice weeks corrected this it could be a large Knoxville afternoon
    UT 54
    UB 12
    this could result in constipatiion and admiration

    • norcalvol says :

      Scoop, I’d like to see some blitzing on defense, too. Maybe its my imagination, but I can’t remember much blitzing on our part all season, if at all…

  6. Orangebobber says :

    We will run, run, run. Orange 42-10

  7. Billy (CW) Smart says :

    Today should be a hands down victory. If They lose this they’re in big trouble. I say 49-14 vols!

  8. Sandy Smart says :

    I’ll go with what the Vols are supposed to do in games like this… 45-10

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