It sounds bizarre, but there was such a thing as Michael Jordan repellent.
It wasn’t a defense implementing the infamous/hyperbolically effective Jordan Rules, nor was it Jordan himself. Rather, it was his college coach at North Carolina, Dean Smith.
Smith, despite being a deity in college coaching, picked scheme over personnel, which prevented His Airness from ever exceeding 20 points per game during his collegiate career.
Currently in Knoxville, the same dilemma is transpiring between head coach Butch Jones and running back John Kelly. Despite being the team’s Michael Jordan — the player who puts up huge numbers and always seems to make plays in crunch time — Jones, as our very own Austin Stanley pointed out, is picking scheme over personnel.
It’s a frustrating reality, but despite being held back by his own head coach, and despite not being as touted a prospect as LSU running back Derrius Guice or a dual-threat quarterback like Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, Kelly is clearly the best running back in the SEC
The numbers alone are staggering: 349 rushing yards (1st in the SEC), five rushing touchdowns (tied for 1st in the SEC), and and 6.2 YPC clip.
But Kelly’s play transcends his production. His ability to gain yards after initial contact makes him one of college football’s most enthralling running backs to watch.
His knack for breaking tackles and fighting for extra yards makes up for his lack of freakish athleticism. According to Pro Football Focus, Kelly has forced 20 missed tackles so far this season, which ranks second in the nation. For his career, he’s forced a missed tackle once every 3.3 attempts.
The junior out of Michigan is America’s most difficult running back to take down, but what truly separates Kelly from every other running back in the SEC — and perhaps, all of college football — is that Jordan-esque trait he possesses. The ability to make plays when Tennessee needs them the most.
He did so against Georgia Tech, rushing for four touchdowns, including the score that tied the game at 28-28. He did so against Florida, gaining 237 total yards of offense, forcing a total of 15 missed tackles, and bringing the Vols within a field goal of the Gators late in the fourth quarter.
Whether Kelly remains the conferences most prolific running back for the remainder of 2017 depends largely on Butch Jones and Larry Scott, but based on his production on the field since the middle of last season, Kelly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
(Photo Cred: Chattanooga Times Free Press)