Ever since Josh Dobbs has been inserted into the lineup, the Tennessee Vols running game has exploded. Tennessee went from averaging 94 rushing yards per game without Dobbs, to averaging 246 yards per game with him. While a big part for this success with the ability of Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd, the Vol scheme has had a lot to do with the change. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has shifted to more option plays and more gap runs, his favorite being counter. So let’s look at a few of the different ways the Vols ran counter in their win over the Kentucky Wildcats.
Bajakian called for counter early on the first drive of the game. One of the adaptations to the play the Vols have made since the beginning of the year is the running back’s alignment on counter. Early in the season, the back would align on the playside. Now, the back lines up to the backside, jab steps away from the play, then crosses the quarterbacks face, receiving the ball.
Tennessee go excellent blocking from their line on this play. Left guard Marcus Jackson pulled around to kick out the Wildcats’ outside linebacker, and the right side of the line blocked down to form a running lane. Tight end Ethan Wolf pulled through to lead Hurd. With Wolf’s block, Hurd had lots of room to run, and he easily picked up 12 yards and a first down.On the final play of the quarter, the Vols went back to the play. This time, Bajakian disguised the play by lining up in an unbalanced stack formation and bringing receiver Josh Malone in motion. This was almost identical in design to Hurd’s long run from early in the season versus Oklahoma.
With Malone faking the jet sweep, the defense overshifted and left the counter wide open. With the defense pt of position, the line was easily able to open a running lane, Wolf got a good block on the linebacker, and Hurd followed him for a gain of 9. The Vols can also run the counter with Dobbs making a read. Here, Pearson came in motion as a decoy. Dobbs was the designed runner on the play, but he had the option to hand the ball to Hurd on the backside sweep. The read player was the backside outside linebacker. The linebacker stepped outside to defend Hurd, so Dobbs kept the ball. Jackson and tight end Brendan Downs both made their blocks to open up the running lane for Dobbs, who gained 12 yards. This is the same concept that the Vols scored a touchdown on later in the game.The read defender, this time the middle linebacker, followed Hurd once again so Dobbs kept the ball. He was able to bounce the ball outside and easily get into the end zone.This is not the only way the Vols can run counter with an option. Here Dobbs had the choice to throw a swing screen to Hurd or keep it himself on the counter. The defensive end, the read player, chased Hurd, so Dobbs kept the ball. The defense had overpursued, so Dobbs had a big rushing lane. The corner blitzed off the playside, so right guard Jashon Robertson had to pick him up and leave the playside end unblocked. Dobbs was able to run through his arm tackle, however, and pick up the first down on a 7 yard gain.Counter had become a critical part of the Vols offense and a big reason for their success. Both Hurd and Dobbs have picked up big yards on this concept. As we saw, counter is versatile enough that Bajakian can call it for multiple ball carriers, and have multiple reads with lots of misdirection. This is an effective concept on its own, but the way the Vols can run it so many different ways makes it all the more effective.