Fulmer pushing team to run better
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By Ross Dellenger
What to watch: Tennessee usually has a stellar running game, but last season the ground attack was abysmal. Last year’s offense earned 71 percent of its yards through the passing game, the highest percentage since 1997 when Peyton Manning was quarterback. “I’ve challenged our team to be a better running football team,” coach Phillip Fulmer said. Last season, the Vols averaged 108 rushing yards a game, the lowest since 1964. Tennessee will lean on sophomore running back LaMarcus Coker, who averaged 6.4 yards a carry last season but missed two games because of injury. With the top three receivers gone, the Vols must solidify a running attack to take some pressure off of quarterback Eric Ainge.
Who to watch: Quarterback Ainge. With loads of experience and a powerful, accurate arm, Ainge seems to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league if not the nation. He completed a school record 67 percent of his passes last season and threw only nine interceptions to 19 touchdowns. But Ainge loses his three top receivers, two to graduation and one to the NFL. It will be interesting to see how a new receiving corps progresses through the season.
Quotable: It’s been two years since Tennessee ended that tumultuous season, but Fulmer still hears about it. The 2005 season, in which the Vols went 5-6, was his worst in 15 seasons at Tennessee. It was the first losing season for a Tennessee team since 1988. “ ’05 was a shocking football season to me as a head football coach and to our program,” Fulmer said. “To our credit, the selfishness that had creeped in, the distractions that had come up, we have eliminated those things.” UT went 9-4 last season.
Prediction: An SEC East crown. If Ainge can stay healthy, the Vols will be back in Atlanta for the first time since 2004 with a shot at a Bowl Championship Series game on the line.