The number 23 play in our countdown to determine the best plays of Tennessee’s 2015 season is Coleman Thomas’s block and Jalen Hurd’s catch and run versus Kentucky.
Early in the third quarter, the Vols led the Wildcats 24-14. Tennessee had the ball at Kentucky’s 37 yard line and faced a third-and-seven.
As we discussed recently, one of Mike DeBord’s go-to play calls on third-and-long is the running back slow screen. The Vols passing game was not always a strength in 2015, and third-and-longs put a lot of pressure on Josh Dobbs. For DeBord, a slow screen was a great way to catch the defense off guard, take the pressure off his signal caller, and get one of his best playmakers in space.
The Vols lined up in a spread formation with two receivers split to each side. Jalen Hurd lined up in the backfield. After faking a block, he would slip out to the right to receive the screen pass. DeBord had three offensive linemen release downfield to block for Hurd: left guard Mack Crowder, center Coleman Thomas, and right guard Dylan Wiesman.
Wiesman was responsible to block the first defender to the outside of Hurd, while Crowder was to block the first player inside.
Thomas’s responsibility was different. Because there were already two linemen blocking downfield, Thomas became responsible to peel back and block any trailing defensive linemen. Often times, defensive linemen can destroy a screen pass before it gets going. If a defender reads the screen and follows Hurd rather than chase Dobbs, then Thomas must block him.
Sure enough, two of Kentucky’s players caught wind of the screen. Thomas executed his job about as well as you could hope. Not only did he block one defender, but he was able to peel back and knock two (!) Kentucky linemen to the ground.
The Wildcats were playing man coverage, so these defensive linemen were the only players in the vicinity of Hurd. Crowder and Wiesman couldn’t even find anyone to block. Once Thomas made his block to take out the trailing defenders, Hurd was in the open field all by himself.
It is daunting task for a defender to bring down the agile, 242 pound Hurd in the open field. The Vols star back was able to weave in and out of traffic, making multiple Kentucky defenders miss as he ran untouched into the end zone, putting the Vols up by 17.
This block by Thomas was one of his best of the year; very rarely can a blocker take out two defenders with one block. Hurd made a great play as well, cutting in and out, making every defender miss. This was a great time to go to the screen, and the Vols made the Wildcats pay.
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