Tennessee’s offense led the SEC in rushing yards per game in 2023.
The Vols need to be better at running the ball in 2024.
Zoom out and Tennessee’s rushing attack had a great season.
The Vols averaged nearly 205 rushing yards per game and close to 5.5 yards per rush.
Jaylen Wright ran for more than 1,000 yards and averaged more than 7 yards per carry.
Those are terrific numbers, especially playing in the SEC.
Those numbers have been cited numerous times in recent weeks as talk of Tennessee’s offensive line and the need for improvement have come up.
“Look at our rushing numbers this past season,” defenders of the offensive line have said.
So I did.
I looked at the numbers in wins over Tennessee’s four non-conference opponents during the regular season.
287 rushing yards vs Virginia
228 rushing yards vs Austin Peay
303 rushing yards vs UTSA
275 rushing yards vs UConn
That’s all terrific.
I also looked at Tennessee’s rushing numbers in the Vols’ four SEC wins.
Those numbers were great, too.
Tennessee had big days on the ground against South Carolina (238 yards), Texas A&M (232), Kentucky (254), and Vanderbilt (168).
But you probably remember that Tennessee lost four games in 2023.
So I looked at Tennessee’s rushing numbers in those games.
100 rushing yards at Florida (3.3 per rush)
133 rushing yards at Alabama (3.5 per rush)
83 rushing yards at Missouri (3.6 per rush)
130 rushing yards vs Georgia (5.2 per rush)
The numbers against Georgia aren’t that bad.
But 75 of those yards came on the first play of the game.
Jaylen Wright’s 75-yard touchdown run helped the box score; it didn’t help Tennessee in trying to beat Georgia.
After that run by Wright, the Vols had 24 rushes for 55 yards.
So yes, Tennessee had a good overall season running the ball in 2023.
But not good enough.
Tennessee will have big goals in 2024.
They’ll try to compete for an SEC title and make a run at the 12-team College Football Playoff.
If Tennessee’s 2023 rushing performance repeats itself next season, the Vols will fall short of their goals.
Because eight or nine huge performances with three or four duds mixed in will keep Tennessee from being as good as it hopes.
That’s why finding offensive line help in the transfer portal is a must.
Tennessee’s returning offensive line will need to stay healthy – too many guys missed time during this past season.
And players will need to develop to provide more depth in 2024.
Tennessee also has to replace Wright and Jabari Small, two productive running backs.
Dylan Sampson showed he can help with his big performance against Iowa (20 carries for 133 yards) in the Citrus Bowl
And rising sophomore Cameron Seldon has SEC size and speed as a No. 2 option.
Then there’s Nico Iamaleava, who proved against Iowa he’ll be a running threat in Tennessee’s offense.
The running game is always a driving force in Josh Heupel’s offense.
It was in 2023 and it will be again in 2024.
But Tennessee’s running game will need to be better overall than what we saw this past season.
The results prove it.