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Tennessee Football: Vols Took Advantage Of Talented Tailbacks

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Tennessee’s tailbacks have no reason to complain about not getting enough carries. Despite a crowded backfield, the Vols got all three of their top tailbacks enough time to shine.

Jaylen Wright was the first to produce out of the backfield as the Vols leaned on him early in a 49-13 win over Virginia on Saturday. The senior finished a 49-13 win over Virginia with 115 yards on 12 carries.

“That’s a good way to start,” Heupel said when asked about Wright, who had 50 yards from scrimmage on the Vols’ opening drive. “If you’re a running back, all three of those guys played extremely well. Jaylen Wright, I thought ran as physical as he has. The things that we saw in training camp, I thought you saw today doing a great job of hitting holes, running through arm tackles, doing a good job on the third level too. Jabari Small did a fantastic job. 

“D-Samp gets the four touchdowns. super productive for him. I love what he’s doing. The strength of that room can never be one guy. All those guys are gonna be extremely important. You can see that, based on the number of touches all those guys got.” 

In fact, Sampson capped off that opening drive that was led by Wright with a nine-yard reception for a touchdown. In addition to that lone catch, Sampson had 13 carries for 52 yards and three touchdowns. Small, like Wright, did much of the heavy lifting in the middle of the field while Sampson, who ran for 67 yards on 13 carries, most often provided the finishing touch by finding the end zone.

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“Jabari and J-Wright, they did a lot of work getting down the field,” Sampson said. “They just trusted me to go put it in. That’s what I’ve got to do, is go lean on my brothers and them trusting me too.”

When asked about his productive day, Wright said, “Just trusting the process and everything I put in in the offseason. Just being patient. When I see a seam I hit it.”

Indeed, he did. Despite being without All-SEC center Cooper Mays, who has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury, the Vols were able to run the ball right at Virginia for an average of 5.5-yards per carry.

Heupel was so confident in his running game that he went for it on fourth down three times, converting two attempts. That certainly just added more excitement to the Vols running game on a dominant day.

“It was fun,” Sampson said. “It felt like we were just playing free out there.”

With three tailbacks all hungry for carries, it’s natural to wonder if there might be any jealousy issues when it comes to dividing carries. Sampson said that’s not a concern.

“We push each other every single day and it’s fun to have that competition,” the sophomore said, “because you always got to be on your best because we all want to be ‘the guy’ that gets in the end zone that makes the good plays, which makes us even better. 

“On the flip side of that, we’re not selfish. We help each other out. We celebrate with our brothers and you never know when you’ve got to lean on your brother. Like today, sometimes they get tired. I’ve got to go in for this and that. It’s just leaning on brothers, trusting each other. Having that competition, with Jabari and J-Wright. It just only make all of us compete at our best.”

That was certainly the case against Virginia.

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