Running wild: Alabama looks to stop John Kelly

Running wild: Alabama looks to stop John Kelly
Photo courtesy of Adrien Terricabras / The Daily Beacon

Alabama’s top-ranked rushing defense will face its most formidable challenge so far this season in Saturday’s clash with Tennessee running back John Kelly, who is amassing more notoriety with each devastating stiff arm he administers.

With the departures of both Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara after last season, Tennessee needed a new running back to step up for the team’s 2017 campaign. Kelly has more than answered the call for the Volunteers, becoming one of the SEC’s most prolific, and most feared, ball carriers. Kelly has utilized his unique blend of quickness and power to gash defenses for 552 total yards, fifth in the conference. At 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 205 pounds, Kelly packs a strong punch that has helped him charge into the end zone six times this season.

Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton knows that the Crimson Tide will have its hands full defending Kelly on Saturday.

"He's really good,” Hamilton said. “I saw a clip of him stiff-arming a couple of guys. He's probably one of the best backs in the SEC."

The video seen by Hamilton features Kelly dishing out several vicious stiff arms to hapless South Carolina defenders in Tennessee’s loss to the Gamecocks last Saturday. The highlight clip has gone viral, earning Kelly the reputation of a ferocious runner who will punish defenders for inadequate tackling.

Alabama defensive back Anthony Averett has also taken note of Kelly’s stiff arms, but believes they can be negated with strong, fundamental tackling.

“I mean of course you see it, but I mean when the time comes you don’t think about it. You are just trying to make the tackle,” Averett said. “We just have to make sure we wrap up, just follow through with our legs and just wrap up, make sure we tackle him because he’s a hard runner.”

Although Kelly certainly poses a threat to Alabama’s defense, he will undoubtedly find it more difficult to compile yards against a Crimson Tide unit that ranks first in the nation against the rush. Alabama’s defense has smothered opponents’ ground attacks, only allowing a meager 66.7 yards per game and a mere 2 rushing touchdowns on the season.

Kelly has found success this year despite running behind an offensive line that has not been particularly effective at creating room for him to run. Tennessee’s offensive line ranks 56th in the nation with a pedestrian 40.2 percent opportunity rate – a statistic that measures an offensive line’s ability to produce at least five yards for the running back. A stout Alabama defense, that has conceded a paltry 2.34 yards per rush, could feast on Tennessee’s mediocre offensive line and stonewall Kelly before he has the chance to get going.

Containing Kelly is a daunting task, but there is not a defense in the country who has been better against the run this year than Alabama; if the Crimson Tide defense can limit Kelly’s impact on Saturday, expect cigar smoke to be wafting out of the Alabama locker room after the game.

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