Ty Chandler earning larger role in Vols’ backfield
KNOXVILLE — Ty Chandler came to Tennessee as not only one of the most recruited players in the state, but in the nation.
The middle Tennessee native flashed why on Saturday. Getting his first extensive run as a Vol in place of the suspended John Kelly, Chandler rushed for a career-high 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Did the true freshman’s breakout performance earn him more playing time despite Kelly returning to the field this week?
“Oh god yes,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Larry Scott said earlier this week. “You have to.
“The explosive nature he brings to the offense and he’s one of those guys that you hope to continue to put as many as you can in your program. They’re called erasers. Even when some things are bad they’re able to erase not so perfect situations and in football you want to have as many of those guys on your team as you can get, especially offensively.”
Chandler’s output exceeded his total for the season to that point, eclipsing the 118 yards he had rushed for through the first seven games of the season as Kelly’s backup.
From the start, Chandler showed why programs across the country wanted him. In the first quarter, Chandler took a handoff to the right, broke a few arm tackles and out ran the Kentucky defense for an 80-yard touchdown run. The big play was negated but a Josh Smith holding call well after Chandler had broken into the open field, but it was a glimpse at the type of plays he’s made in practice since arriving this summer.
“It felt great just going out there and being able to compete,” Chandler said. “O-line did a great job blocking, so I was just able to do my thing.
“I knew I had an opportunity in front of me and I just wanted to take full advantage of it.”
Chandler would later produce a 29-yard run where he ran over Kentucky defensive back Chris Westry and scored Tennessee’s first offensive touchdown in 15 quarters. He added a second rushing score the next drive.
“He’s a guy who has the ability to hit a lot of big runs, as do a lot of the guys in our backfield,” senior offensive lineman Jashon Robertson said. “And we seen that in practice too.
“It happens of the course of the season or the course of a game and you’ll look at a play and it won’t be blocked nearly like it’s drawn up to be blocked, but you have a talented back or quarterback, whatever it is, make a play. Ty definitely did that a few times throughout the game and he’s done that in practice.”
Chandler hadn’t had many opportunities by Kelly, the ninth-leading rusher in the SEC, due to the junior’s ability and the fact Tennessee’s offensive hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Since toting the ball 25 times against Massachusetts, Kelly averaged just 14.6 carries over the next three SEC games. As an offense, the Vols ran an average of 52 plays per game.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said that the coaching staff has talked about ways to get both running backs on the field at the same time, and it seems more and more likely it could happen given Chandler’s increased understanding of the offense.
“Ty is a talented kid and it’s about time for that light to really start to come on for him and the game to start slowing down for him,” Scott said. “He’s still a true freshman. He’s been here three and a half months and playing football in the SEC, it takes a little while. Now that the game is starting to slow down for him a little you’re starting to see flashes of his natural talent level come through.”