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Vols' zone blocking a different look

A key to Tennessee’s offense has been its rushing game, and what has allowed it to break loose, in part, is the Volunteers’ zone-blocking scheme.

The Volunteers (7-5) started running a zone-blocking scheme this year and have done so more frequently than most teams Virginia Tech has played. This week, the Hokies (9-3) have been practicing against a zone-blocking look to get used to acclimated to seeing it.

“What makes it so tough is they have different approach as to how they block,” Hokies defensive end Jason Worilds said. “They don’t have a plethora of runs, but they have a variety of formations they run out of them.”

In a zone-blocking scheme, offensive linemen block in certain areas, or zones, instead of match up against a specific defender. It is up to the running back to find the creases in the zone and to break free.

Such a blocking scheme does set up many one-on-one battles along the offensive and defensive lines. Calling it “more of a pride thing,” Worilds said he preferred to play against a man-blocking scheme, in order to face up against one blocker the whole game.

But the zone-blocking scheme has worked for the Volunteers and running back Montario Hardesty.

“The run scheme definitely fit my way of running,” Hardesty said in a recent teleconference. “But at the same time, I think it would fit any back, because it’s a real running back-friendly offense.”

Hardesty has run for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns; he ranks 19th nationally with 108.8 yards rushing per game. He has quickly grown accustomed to the Volunteers’ new blocking scheme and has grown more decisive with his reads in attacking open holes.

With his increased production, Hardesty is fifth on Tennessee’s single-season rushing list and 159 yards shy of breaking the record. Eddie George, the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, called Hardesty this year to express admiration for his running style.

Tennessee Coach Lane Kiffin compared Hardesty’s rapid growth in the offense to Oakland Raiders running back Justin Fargas; Kiffin worked with Fargas while the coach in Oakland. In his first four NFL seasons, Fargas ran 258 times for 1,016 yards. In the 2007 season, his first year under Kiffin, he ran 222 times for 1,009 yards.

“I think our system lends to guys playing extremely well in their first year,” Kiffin said. “I think system, because we don’t do very many runs, guys can get really good at it really quick.”

With Tennessee growing into the scheme, the Hokies defense should have its hands full this week as it tries to prepare for the look.

By Mark Viera  |  December 29, 2009; 9:45 AM ET
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