Tennessee football’s Jalen Hurd carries team despite what depth chart portrays

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NORMAN, Okla. — Butch Jones said he felt a sense of pride as he watched a persistent Jalen Hurd churn his way to 121 all-purpose yards during Tennessee’s 34-10 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday.

The total surpassed that of any Sooner, and nearly doubled the production of any Vol.

“He’s gaining tough yards,” Jones said. “He’s gaining the three and four-yard runs and really lowering his center of gravity and his pad level.

I’ve been proud of him. Now, we need to continue to grow and develop.”

This development, according to Jones, doesn’t include Hurd becoming UT’s starter. After the loss, Jones once again dismissed the notion that the freshman is challenging senior Marlin Lane for his role.

“Starting is overrated,” Jones said. “Who cares who the starter is? They play the same amount of reps. All it is, is that person is on the field first, before. That’s why I chuckle when everyone wants a depth chart. The depth chart means absolutely nothing in our football program.”

While he remains No. 2 on that depth chart, on Saturday Hurd continued to distance himself from Lane and sparsely used Devrin Young.

Hurd carried the ball 14 times for 97 yards, an average of 6.9 yards per touch. He proved once again he can help the passing attack, both as a receiver and a much-needed protector of quarterback Justin Worley. And three times, he gashed the Sooners for big gains.

In the first quarter, with an OU blitz bearing down on Worley, Hurd turned a screen pass on a third-and-11 into a 30-yard sprint that set the stage for a touchdown. After halftime, he finally found some traction on the ground against a Sooner defense few others could dent.

“Jalen finishes runs regardless of if he’s getting hit in the backfield or if he’s getting hit 20 yards downfield,” Worley said. “He’s going to finish his run and try to run through a tackle. Sometimes there are holes. Sometimes there’s not. He found a couple late in the game.”

Hurd’s 43-yard dash in the third quarter was the longest of his young college career. It moved the Vols, trailing 27-10 at the time, to OU’s 26-yard line, but the momentum was spoiled by an interception.

In the fourth quarter, another interception — this one returned 100 yards for a touchdown — killed Tennessee’s chance of capitalizing on the 29-yard Hurd run that ended at the OU 12.

These explosive plays came after Hurd’s seven first-half carries yielded just 17 yards.


RB @MrHurd_1 had the most rush yards by a true freshman in 5 years. @briancrice breaks it down http://t.co/et1Ovzfln8pic.twitter.com/m1mKAHYePP

— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) September 15, 2014

“It was just wear and tear on the defense, really,” Hurd said of the change. “The offensive line did a great job opening up those holes, and I just tried to take advantage of it.”

For Lane, a major breakthrough never came. He ran twice for four yards in the first half and finished with 10 carries for 42 yards. Twenty-one of those yards came on five consecutive runs during UT’s final, clock-killing drive.

UT has struggled to run the ball this season, yet has remained intent on trying — usually with Hurd.

Only two SEC backs — Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb (58) and Arkansas’ Alex Collins (50) — have more carries than Hurd’s 48. Hurd’s average of 69.7 rushing yards per game is tied with Alabama’s Derrick Henry. His average per carry is now 4.4 yards.

The numbers point toward Hurd carrying a starter’s load, even if he doesn’t hold the title.

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