KNOXVILLE -- Marlin Lane's first touch of the football Saturday afternoon was an indication of what would come.
The Tennessee tailback heads into the offseason with his confidence surging.
Lane racked up 226 all-purpose yards and ran for two touchdowns to lead the Orange team to a 17-14 win in the Volunteers' Orange and White Game in front of the fourth-largest crowd to see one of the annual spring contests at Neyland Stadium.
Lane's big day was the culmination of a two-week turnaround for him.
"I wasn't happy with the first scrimmage because I felt that I didn't prepare myself for the scrimmage to help my team," said Lane, who had just 8 yards on seven carries in that scrimmage 16 days ago. "I came out the next day and I was just focused on helping everybody around me."
After bouncing back with 71 yards in the Vols' second scrimmage, Lane got involved early and often Saturday. UT's leading returning rusher returned the opening kickoff 43 yards, caught a 16-yard pass for a first down on his team's opening possession and scored from 20 yards out on a toss to cap the drive.
Though Lane was facing a defense that consisted primarily of UT's second-teamers, the 6-foot, 205-pounder did his damage behind an offensive line featuring Carson Anderson, Darin Gooch and redshirt freshmen Kyler Kerbyson, Alan Posey and Mack Crowder. He also had the game's highlight play, a 39-yard scamper into the end zone as time expired in the first half on a draw play that was designed to set up a field goal. Lane finished with 106 yards on nine carries.
"I have a lot of confidence," he said, "just going out there and running, playing and doing everything -- all the small details that's going to help the team. I'm ready."
Improving on a running game that finished 116th nationally and last in the SEC last season has been a major point of emphasis for the Vols through spring practice. Much of the focus has been on the offensive line playing more physically, but the emphasis has included the running backs and even the receivers blocking on the perimeter.
Head coach Derek Dooley said some necessary steps were taken.
"We feel like we made the progress we needed to make," he said after his third spring game. "It doesn't mean we're a great running team, but it's something to build on. We've got a lot of cut-ups we can watch from the spring and try to polish it up. Hopefully the players are seeing what it takes to be a good football team."
Rajion Neal and Devrin Young, the other two parts of UT's three-way rotation at tailback, were on the Orange team with the rest of the first-team offense that went against the first-team defense. Neal had 49 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown and no fumbles, and Young finished with 39 yards on eight rushes. Both showed glimpses of their speed.
"I think we have three guys who all have different qualities and can help us move the football," Dooley said. "You saw a little spurt of all of it today. They're all three good backs. I think Marlin's experience probably showed up today, and hopefully those three will continue to develop."
The White team answered Lane's first score with a quick drive highlighted by quarterback Tyler Bray's 51-yard pass to Da'Rick Rogers, who beat cornerback Justin Coleman on a double move. After Lane's run before halftime, the White team went on a more methodical drive of 11 plays. Neal capped the first with a 2-yard plunge and set up the second touchdown, a 1-yard pass from Bray to tight end Mychal Rivera, with a 12-yard dart to the 1.
Led by backup quarterback Justin Worley, the Orange team answered with a drive capped by Derrick Brodus' 37-yard field goal that ended up being the difference in the game.
The Vols were not without what Dooley called "critical mistakes." The White team's final drive was marred by Bray's slip and a holding penalty, and both kickers missed field goals.
Two fumbles -- one in the red zone in which linebacker Dontavis Sapp ripped the ball away from Rogers and another on a bad snap that killed a drive -- cost the White team.
Lane muffed one punt, but that was the only mark on a day that had even his opponents smiling.
"I caught myself several times saying, 'That's my dog' on a couple of his runs," Neal admitted. "I'm trying to beat him, too, but it's good seeing that, because at the end of the day we're still one team. That's somebody we're going to need and depend on."