Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd approached the microphone like a seasoned vet after the Outback Bowl. “Any questions?” he politely asked.
No need. Hurd provided all the necessary answers with his dominant performance against Northwestern on Friday.
The sophomore led the Vols to a 45-6 pummelling of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. The Nashville native ran for 130 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. That type of performance is nothing new.
Hurd reached the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season. He finished the 2015 season with 1,288 yards rushing.
Hurd’s Outback Bowl was historic. Tennessee has never had a running back rush for over 100 yards in two bowl games. Hurd accomplished that feat thanks to his performance on Friday and 122 yards in the TaxSlayer Bowl last year.
Hurd’s performance is even more impressive considering he suffered a pulled hamstring in practice this week. Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Hurd’s playing status was a game-time decision after he pulled up lame during practice.
“I put it in my mind that I was going to play either way. … There was nothing that was going to stop me from playing,” Hurd said. “Even if it hurt, I didn’t care.”
Even when Hurd wasn’t on the practice field last week, Jones saw effort.
“Jalen sacrificed,” Jones said. “He stayed in that training room. He worked and worked and worked.”
Perhaps most importantly, Hurd was never held to a negative run. Tennessee’s momentum was always moving forward and there wasn’t anything Northwestern could do about it.
“It was awesome,” Hurd said. “You could tell that we were wearing on them.”
Soon, if not already, Hurd must be considered one of the top tailbacks in Tennessee football history. While racking up the yards, he has done two things that few Volunteer tailbacks have been asked to do: have an immediate impact and run behind a roughshod offensive line.
The Vols had to replace every starter on the offensive line before the 2014 season. Tennessee had to shuffle offensive linemen because of a myriad of injuries in 2015. Hurd has always been the tailback the Vols could lean on.
“I love him and I’m very indebted to him,” Jones said.
Understandably, Jones used Hurd as an example of why in-state prospects should play for Tennessee. Hurd was highly recruited when he signed with the Vols in 2014. He spurned scholarship offers any school that came calling.
“Great players in this state need to stay at home in Tennessee,” Jones said. “There are so many values and benefits that it brings to life after football. Why would you want to go anywhere else?”
It’s a good thing for Jones that Hurd never found an answer to that question.