KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee tailback Jalen Hurd looks to get back on track after missing the Texas A&M game on account of multiple injuries and being stifled in the 49-10 loss to Alabama.
The Vols’ schedule is lightening up, and Hurd is poised to take advantage after averaging just 3.8 yards per carry through the first half of the season.
Hurd ranks 123rd in the nation in rushing, ahead of only two backs who have as many carries.
The former Beech High School standout is, however, still on pace to become Tennessee’s all-time leading rusher.
Hurd has the confidence of his head coach and the Vols’ fan base, many of whom on social media proclaim him to be the most popular player on the team.
Vols all-time rushing chart
1. Travis Henry (1997-2000), 3,078 yards
2. Arian Foster (2005-2008), 2,964
3. James Stewart (1991-1994), 2,890
4. Johnnie Jones (1981-1984), 2,852
5. Jamal Lewis (1997-1999), 2,677
6. Cedric Houston (2001-2004), 2,634
7. Jalen Hurd (2014-Present), 2,622
“I’m not concerned with statistics or yards per carry,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said at his Monday news conference. “Jalen Hurd is a great player and one of the best backs in the country, and we’re going to get him the football.”
Jones said the Vols have run more formations with Hurd deeper in the backfield, where he can generate momentum for his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame.
“We’ve done a lot more pistol than we have in the past, and that puts him in the home position at 7 yards (deep in the backfield), so that’s standard football and you can’t go any deeper than that,” Jones said. “So he’ll maintain that, (and) we’ve done some more under center things than we’ve done in the past, and obviously the traditional shotgun run game stuff as well.
“We anticipate him having good games moving forward. There isn’t anyone in our program that takes more pride in his performance than Jalen Hurd. He dissects every single run, what could he do better, he works very hard.”
Hurd’s workload will also increase on account of fellow tailback Alvin Kamara being sidelined for at least the next two weeks by an unspecified knee injury.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord indicated Hurd’s statistical drop has more to do with Tennessee’s inability to wear down opponents.
“The wear and tear effect on a defense through the course of a game, we’re getting it, but we’re not getting it like we did last year because we’re not running the ball as much,” DeBord said. “I don’t think it’s anything with him; I think it’s been more of our approach of mixing in our throw game stuff and not running as much, and then Alvin has done some things for us.”
Sophomore tailback John Kelly, who leads Tennessee with a 6.1-yards-per-carry average, will take over Kamara’s workload.
“John Kelly will be the guy that gets his reps, and again, we felt really confident with him, we saw what he did in the (Texas) A&M game,” DeBord said. “He’s got the ability with the speed and quickness, he’s also a bigger back inside. He has the ability to do both, so we’ll get in the game and see what they are giving us, if they are giving us the outside game or inside game.”
How the Tennessee tailbacks compare this season:
• Jalen Hurd 114 carries, 435 yards, 3.8 yards per carry, 28 yards longest run
• Alvin Kamara 64 carries, 313 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 36 yards longest run
• John Kelly 19 carries, 115 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 40 yards longest run
Tennessee opponents rush defense ranking:
Alabama No. 1
Virginia Tech No. 11
Georgia No. 17
Ohio No. 18
Florida No. 22
Appalachian State t-No. 27
Texas A&M No. 79
South Carolina No. 103
Tennessee Tech (N/A, FCS school)
Kentucky No. 93
Missouri No. 109
Vanderbilt No. 62