KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - LSU’s Spencer Ware may not have the flashy stats or blinding speed. What he does have is a pounding running style that’s made him a dangerous asset for the top-ranked Tigers.
“If you come as hard as you can, full throttle, with it in your mind that, ?You can’t tackle me,’ then you will break a tackle,” Ware said. “Every time you have the ball, you have to have the mentality that you want to score, not just, ?Oh, it’s a defender in front of me, and I might get tackled.’”
That’s the kind of attitude Tennessee coach Derek Dooley wants from his own running backs. The Volunteers head into Saturday’s meeting with LSU as the Southeastern Conference’s worst rushing team with an average 84.8 yards per game on the ground.
“We just don’t look good, and we’ve just got to go out there and hit people and stick our pads down and run,” Dooley said. “That’s what good running teams do, and we’re just going to keep working on it.”
Ware leads a trio of LSU runners with 432 yards and has five touchdowns. The sophomore is averaging only 4.2 yards per carry - the lowest of any SEC tailback with more than 100 touches - and has just one play over 20 yards this season but has given opponents fits by the way he runs right at them over and over.
“Spencer just wears people down,” LSU guard Will Blackwell said. “He might be 225 pounds, but I swear he runs like he’s about 260, and when you’ve got a guy coming at you full-speed 20 times a game, you’re going to get tired.”
Ware remembers running “hamburger drills” in his first full-contact season of youth football player at age 7, a drill that had him running full speed at a teammate with the expectation of either running the defender over or being tackled.
“I kind of laid him out, had the kid crying,” he said. “Ever since then it was like, ?Oh, that’s all I’ve got to do?’”
Tennessee senior running back Tauren Poole has had a pair of 101-yard games and a 98-yard performance, but all have come against nonconference foes. Poole was hampered by a minor back injury against Florida and strained a hamstring against Georgia and totaled 25 yards in those games.
Marlin Lane has only 96 rushing yards this season, and the freshman has frustrated coaches with his tendency to hesitate when coming face-to-face with a defender.
“We’ve been on him for several weeks about getting the ball and going,” Dooley said. “He’s not there yet as a runner. There were a couple of times in the game he got the ball and he got spooked and he’s stopped and then he tries to run outside. You just go.”
In their two SEC games, the Vols have handed the ball off 34 times. Fifteen of those attempts have ended either at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Dooley cautions that the offensive linemen and tight ends need to take on Ware’s physical mentality as much as the running backs do. And that kind of improvement won’t happen overnight, especially when facing the fourth-best rushing defense in the nation in LSU.
“We’re not going to hand the ball off Saturday and some guy rushes for 220 and we go, ?Oh, now we’ve got it,’” Dooley said. “It’s a daily grind. We get better, we get better and we get better. Everybody wants the quick fix, the magic pill that’s going to make everything great. It doesn’t exist.”
AP sportswriter Brett Martel in Baton Rouge contributed.