KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s one-one punch at tailback may have to be downgraded to a typical one-two punch when the Volunteers host the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.
Marlin Lane suffered a “lower extremity” injury during Tennessee’s victory over South Alabama last week and missed this week’s first two practices.
The junior rode a stationary bike during practice Tuesday and participated only mentally.
“We’ll know a little more as he practices and improves through the night, but he’s going to be day to day,” said coach Butch Jones, who added that he had “no idea” if Lane would return to practice today.
Rajion Neal also didn’t practice Tuesday. The senior tailback wore a noncontact jersey and worked on the side with an athletic trainer. He moved somewhat gingerly, but Jones said his top back would be ready for Saturday.
Neal said Tom Smith would be prepared for the workload if Lane can’t play Saturday.
The redshirt sophomore from Apopka (Fla.) High School near Orlando had 27 yards on three carries against the Jaguars, but he would see a more substantial role against the Bulldogs if Lane is out. The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder has a total of 117 yards on 30 carries for his career.
“Tom’s really grown,” Neal said. “He’s definitely getting in on special teams and learning more and accepting the coaching. It’s good to see him grow from where he was as a freshman.”
Neal, who rushed for career highs in carries (25) and yards (169) in the game against South Alabama, said he’s also prepared to handle a larger workload again if Lane can’t play.
“I think the biggest compliment to any player is having your teammates believe in you, and you going out proving you are what you say you are,” he said. “I think that’s something that I showed, and I had a lot of help from my O-line and the guys on the perimeter to help me do that.
“I just want to show that guys that [they] can depend on me and put the load on my back.”
What about Gurley?
Georgia has health issues in its own backfield, too, after Todd Gurley left the Bulldogs’ win against LSU in the first half with a sprained ankle.
Keith Marshall, the Bulldogs’ next option at tailback, brings a different style of running to the game. The 5-11, 219-pounder gashed Tennessee for 164 yards on just 10 carries in Georgia’s 51-44 win in Athens last season, a performance that included touchdown runs of 72 and 75 yards.
“He is a hard runner, but we’re preparing as if Gurley is going to play this week,” said Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson. “We know on film that [Marshall] likes to bounce outside and Gurley likes to run inside, so were just preparing for that.”
Georgia fifth-year senior quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown for 1,338 yards and 11 touchdowns in the first four games of the season, and the Vols recognize the challenge he presents.
“He doesn’t make mistakes,” said Tennessee safety Brian Randolph. “He’s very accurate with his passes, and he’s smart. He can also run a little bit. He’s an all-around good quarterback.”