published Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

'Balancing act' in backfield for UT Vols

Tennessee running back Marlin Lane (15) breaks away from Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Darreon Herring (35).
Tennessee running back Marlin Lane (15) breaks away from Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Darreon Herring (35).
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — On a night when not many plays worked for Tennessee's offense, the Volunteers had some success handing off to tailback Marlin Lane.

Backed up on its own 1-yard line in the second quarter of the loss to Vanderbilt last Saturday, Tennessee gave the ball to the junior, second fiddle to Rajion Neal in the Vols' backfield, on four straight plays and gained 37 yards before a miscommunication caused a bad snap that resulted in a 3-yard loss and ruined one of the few times the Vols found a rhythm offensively.

Lane got the ball only three more times and finished with 53 yards on nine carries.

"If an individual's hot, we're going to feed them until they can go no more," Vols coach Butch Jones said Monday. "The luxury we've had is Marlin Lane has given us some great reps. Rajion Neal has played winning football for us. Everyone can see that he's really changed his style of play. He's playing with a physical presence. That's the improvement, again, I see in a lot of individuals in our football program."

Neal ran it 22 times for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Commodores, and the senior needs 10 yards in the season finale at Kentucky on Saturday night to crack the 1,000-yard barrier for the season.

Both players are averaging more than 5 yards per rush, and though Lane is averaging half a yard more per carry than Neal, he's had 90 carries to Neal's 195 despite performing well enough in some stretches of some games this season to earn more attempts.

"It is a balancing act, but you go with the hot hand, and when they can't go, they have the confidence to come out of the game and put the next individual in," Jones said. "When you're play-calling, you play to the skill sets of your players. We think players not plays ... and we try to manufacture different touches for different players.

"Each player has kind of their own plays we feel they're better at, so it's a balancing act. There's a lot of communication that goes on throughout the course of the game and play-calling as well."

Third-and-regret

Tennessee missed a chance to ice a win against Vanderbilt when it was stuffed on a third-and-1 near midfield with a little more than four minutes left. The Commodores stacked the box with nine defenders and got into the backfield for a big play that set up the winning drive. A first down would have run off more time or forced Vanderbilt to start using its timeouts.

"They schemed us well on that one," Tennessee right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "They were in the right defense, and we had guys, if you slip up a little bit when guys are in the right defense, then it's going to be hard to get that."

Even though the Vols became virtually one-dimensional after freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs threw two early interceptions, Tennessee ran for 184 yards against a defense ranked sixth in the SEC against the run entering the game. Tennessee ran it 45 times, and Dobbs threw 19 passes and was sacked a couple of times.

That one yard, though, had a big impact on the eventual outcome.

"It's very disappointing," James said. "I'm like, 'I don't want to put the defense back on the field.' We said it before, during that timeout, that we wanted to go out there and get this first down and [run off] as much time as possible or get into the end zone. When something like that happens, you put it on your shoulders.

"We weren't able to stop them, but I feel like that was more on us not being able to convert with four minutes to go."

Palardy's preference

When Jones called for a fake field early in the fourth quarter against Vanderbilt, kicker Michael Palardy was 14-of-17 on field goals for the season, though he had a 33-yarder deflected earlier in the game and a 32-yarder that bounced in off the left upright. And he had his worst game punting of the season.

The senior-year renaissance of the oft-criticized Palardy hit a hiccup against the Commodores, but instead of giving his kicker the chance to put the Vols up 13-7, Jones called for a fake pass that had no chance.

When asked Monday if he'd have rather had the chance to kick the 42-yard field goal, Palardy was noncommittal.

"Coach called it from the sideline, and I just did what I was told," he said. "He thought it would work, and it was something we had been preparing all year for, if the situation arose. He felt like we could get it. Vanderbilt, they covered it well. It didn't work out.

"When I go out there, I do what I'm told, whether it's a fake, a kick, whatever the situation may be."

It was the fourth pass on a called fake for Palardy. His incompletion on a fake punt from Tennessee's 19-yard line came in the third quarter of last year's blowout loss to Vanderbilt. In 2011, Palardy threw a pass for a first down on a fake punt at Alabama and an incompletion on a fake field goal at Arkansas.

Extra points

Tennessee last lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the same season in 1964, when the Vols went 4-5-1 in their first season under Doug Dickey. ... Tennessee and Ohio State are the only two programs in college football without an eight-loss season. "I already had a lot of wrong in this career," James said when a reporter told him that fact. "I don't want to be that team." ... Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Raymond Sanders, the Wildcats' leading rusher with 464 yards this season, will not play against Tennessee for a violation of team rules.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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