KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -It's easy to overlook a running back at Wide Receiver U.
In a season where all eyes have been on the arm of quarterback Erik Ainge and a deep corps of wide receivers, Tennessee tailback Arian Foster has quietly amassed 1,107 yards while climbing the school's career rushing chart.
``It means a lot, especially at this university,'' Foster said. ``The last couple of years it's been hard for any individual to achieve an accolade like that because of the rotation and because we've had great quarterbacks and we've been a passing offense.''
Passing has been the Vols' focus again this season - they have 1,275 more yards by air than by ground. But the ground game has been key to winning for Tennessee (9-3, 6-2 SEC), which gained more than 150 yards rushing in wins over Georgia and Arkansas, and ground out 273 yards in a lopsided 59-7 homecoming win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Vols' worst rushing performance: a paltry 37 yards in a 59-20 rout by Florida.
Tight end Chris Brown thinks Foster could be the reason Tennessee beats No. 4 LSU (10-2, 6-2) in the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday in Atlanta.
``Arian Foster has run the ball extremely hard, and he's done a lot of special things for us,'' Brown said. ``It's going to be that matchup that will win the game for us - if we can run the football and if our defense can stop them from running the football.''
Foster piled up 879 yards his freshman year, taking over as starter for injured senior Gerald Riggs Jr. As part of a running back rotation last season with Montario Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker, Foster managed just 322 yards.
Coaches expected a similar rotation this season, but Foster practiced and played his way into the feature role. Meanwhile, Coker couldn't keep himself out of trouble and was cut from the team midseason, and Hardesty has struggled with an ankle injury.
Now, Foster's 2,308 career yards puts him only 770 shy of Travis Henry's school record, with two more games this season and another year of eligibility.
``I continue to be impressed with how Arian Foster works and improves,'' said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. ``He is making a significant difference in our season.''
Fulmer said he saw improvement in Foster's work ethic after Tennessee lost 20-10 to Penn State in last season's Outback Bowl. A fumble by Foster was recovered by Penn State's Tony Davis, who ran 88 yards for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead.
Fulmer said the running back took a copy of an article about the game and hung it in his locker during the offseason, where he could see it every day before workouts.
Foster had another costly fumble this season, when he dropped a handoff from Ainge against the Gators. Linebacker Dustin Doe scooped up the ball and ran it for a touchdown.
The mistakes are something Foster has learned to put out of his mind.
``With football you have to have a short-term memory,'' he said. ``Whatever happens on the field, you just have to put it in the back of your head and just keep going on to the next play, whether it be a fumble, a turnover or the opposing offense scores. You've just got to play your game.''
His game also includes catching a few passes.
Foster not only tallied 118 yards on the ground against Kentucky last Saturday, but his 98 yards receiving was a season high. In the first play from scrimmage, he caught a 65-yard pass from Ainge before cutting across the field, breaking a tackle and scoring a touchdown.
That dual threat is disruptive to opposing teams, offensive lineman Anthony Parker said.
``You have to cover him as well,'' he said. ``When you have a person like that who can run the ball and receive it, it has a tendency to hurt defenses.''

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