Tauren Poole and the Tennessee offensive line were determined to prevent another Southeastern Conference team from getting the better of the Volunteers' running game. Poole lowered his shoulders with the determination to “just run” against an LSU defense that's ranked among the top in the nation.
The payoff was the best individual running performance against the No. 1 Tigers all season.
“I didn't do anything spectacular. All I did was just run, and that's what the o-line told me to do,” Poole said. “I feel confident, but I feel more confident in the offensive line and fullbacks than anything. Those guys played really, really hard and my progression was there, my production was there, and that's why I give it all to them.”
The senior from Toccoa, Ga., knows it's going to take even more hard work and focus on Saturday, when the Vols travel to No. 2 Alabama, the top rushing defense in the nation. The stingy Crimson Tide defense is giving up a mere 38.1 yards on the ground per game.
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The Vols had lost a combined 29 yards rushing against Florida and Georgia but picked up 111 yards against the Tigers, who entered the game allowing an average 69.2 yards per game on the ground. Poole accounted for 70 yards, the most by any single rusher against LSU this season.
“The result wasn't what we wanted, but we made progress,” Poole said. “We're going to have to continue to run the football, especially this week, and continue to move the ball as best as we can.”
Poole knows a thing or two about having success against a determined Alabama defense after rushing for 117 yards against it last season. He's the only player to have 100 yards or more rushing against the Crimson Tide in 53 games and only one of four players to do so in Alabama coach Nick Saban's five seasons.
“He's a great running back,” Alabama noseguard Josh Chapman said. “They have a lot of great runners over there, a great offensive line. They're a great team. The running backs are one of their strengths. We've just got to go play our game.”
Aside from more physical play by the offensive line and fullbacks, Poole credits the smart guidance of quarterback Matt Simms for improvement in the running game. Simms made his first start in almost a year against LSU, playing in place of Tyler Bray, who broke the thumb on his throwing hand against the Bulldogs on Oct. 8.
While Bray's strength is his ability to make accurate, downfield throws, Simms has a knack for reading coverages and anticipating
“I just think Matt has a great feel for the game, and you can see it on Saturdays,” Poole said. “He definitely expects a lot of himself and he expects us to get in the right calls. He knows a lot, and we see it in practice, we see it in a game.”
Freshman backup running back Marlin Lane's improvement has also helped the Vols progress on the ground. Lane had the best game of his young career against LSU with 43 yards on six carries.
Gradual development in a players' first season is expected, coach Derek Dooley said. The young tailbacks must learn what it's like to face big, speedy SEC defensive players and not hesitate before the point of contact.
“It's hard,” Dooley said. “You get hit a lot and (must learn) to embrace it. Most guys, when they come out of high school, they expect to feel great all the time. It doesn't happen like that. (Lane has) run better and better, especially the last two games,” he said. “He's running a little bit better but he's still not near capable of what he's capable of doing.”
Dooley, a former Saban assistant, declared the Crimson Tide's defense “as physically a dominating defense as I've seen in the modern era of football,” but Saban refuses to take the Vols' running game lightly.
“We have a lot of respect for this team and what they can do. We certainly need to take care of our business so we can take care of business,” Saban said.