KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Tennessee's offense needed a strong rushing game to help it move forward this season. Instead, the Volunteers have taken a gigantic step back.
Tennessee netted only a single yard on the ground Saturday in its 26-14 loss to No. 10 Georgia.
``It's a huge handicap,'' coach Phillip Fulmer said. ``You can't control the tempo of the game. You can't keep your defense off the field like you'd like to, unless you're just very efficient with the passing game, which we haven't been that either.''
Tennessee (2-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) entered the Georgia game averaging 146.4 yards rushing per contest after having successful games running against UCLA, UAB and Auburn alongside a languishing passing game which eventually prompted a quarterback change.
After allowing Tennessee to rush for 190 yards last season in the Vols' 35-14 upset of Georgia, the Bulldogs committed to stopping the run this year.
ourth in the nation in rushing defense, Tennessee coaches tried to burn the Bulldogs early by air.
On the opening play of the game, Nick Stephens hit Gerald Jones on a 25-yard pass, but missed his next three attempts and took two sacks for a loss of 15 yards.
The Vols ran for 10 yards on their first four carries split among Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty and Lennon Creer.
It was mostly downhill - or backward - from there.
Even as Hardesty averaged 3.3 yards on six carries, coaches started leaning more heavily on the passing game as Tennessee fell behind 13-0 early. The Vols finished with only 15 rushing attempts, six of which were for negative or zero yardage.
Gerald Jones, lining up at quarterback in the ``G-gun'' package, was dropped for a loss of 8 yards. Defenses appear to be catching on to the notion that Jones often keeps the ball in that package.
Stephens went 13-for-30 for 208 yards and two touchdowns for Tennessee's best passing performance of the year, but it wasn't enough to keep up with Georgia's prolific offense, which had little trouble piling up yards and points.
``People are loading up on us a lot more,'' Fulmer said. ``They're making a young quarterback have to execute. That's about as simple as it is. We need to be able to make them pay a little bit more than we did.''
year's line that allowed a nationwide-low four sacks and helped the Vols average 139 yards rushing per game last season.
This year, the line has struggled to get any push against opposing defenses. Most rushing success has come outrunning slower defenses on outside sweeps.
``As an offensive lineman, you want to be able to run the ball more, and we're not being able to get that done right now for whatever reason,'' said offensive guard Anthony Parker, a second-team All-American last season.
Offensive coordinator Dave Clawson last week credited much of the offensive line's success last season to the abilities of quarterback Erik Ainge, who was quick to release the ball and talented enough that teams had to respect the passing game, allowing for more rushing.
Tennessee's game against Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2) on Saturday night might be the time to find improvement on the ground. The Bulldogs have the worst rushing defense out of any of teams the Vols have faced so far, having given up 10 rushing touchdowns and an average 156.2 yards rushing per game.
The tailbacks say it's just going to come down to executing better, something the coaches and players have said repeatedly this season about all of Tennessee's offensive problems.
``We've got to be more dynamic,'' Hardesty said.
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