Payback for Poole?

As a senior at Stephens County High in Toccoa, Ga., Tauren Poole hoped to get a scholarship offer from the Georgia Bulldogs. It never arrived.

As a junior at Tennessee, Poole hopes to get some payback against his home-state university. It could arrive this Saturday at 12:21, when the Dawgs host the Big Orange at Sanford Stadium.

"They didn't recruit me much," the Vols' star tailback recalled this week, although he subsequently added that he has "no hard feelings against Georgia."

That may be true. Still, Poole is a proud young man whose pride no doubt was damaged when Bulldog recruiters snubbed him ... just as his pride was damaged a year ago when former UT coach Lane Kiffin relegated him to mop-up duty as the No. 4 tailback.

Poole proved that Kiffin undervalued him by rushing for 110 yards vs. UT Martin, 162 vs. Oregon and 109 vs. LSU already this fall. It's a safe bet Poole would love to prove this weekend that Georgia coach Mark Richt undervalued him, as well. Still, the Vol junior says he's preparing for this game no differently than he prepares for any other game.

"There really wasn't anything I could change," he said. "I don't change anything I do. I always work hard because I know I'm facing a quality SEC opponent."

Vol quarterback Matt Simms confirms as much. He says Poole works so hard each week that there has been no visible variation in his practice habits this week.

"He's a pretty motivated person each week; it doesn't matter who we're playing," Simms said. "Deep down, there may be some things brewing inside him that motivate him but he's one of those people who comes to work each day and does his best."

Poole looms as a key figure in Saturday's game. When he's spearheading the ground attack that takes considerable pressure off of the Vol passing game.

"Tauren is an extremely important part of this offense - as a leader and a person who wants to be out there and do his best," Simms said. "He's a perfect example of a team player. Every day he comes out and works to get better."

At 5-11 and 213 pounds, Poole is strong enough to run between the tackles but quick enough to get outside on occasion. This versatility is crucial to Tennessee's offense.

"One week he's a speed back and the next he's more of a downhill back," Simms noted. "He has ability to do both. It helps us when we need the big yards in tough situations."

Poole also makes good decisions, catches the ball well out of the backfield and gives his all as a pass protector.

Describing Poole's role in the offense as "extremely important," Simms added: "He's an extremely smart player. He's good at protection and he runs the ball extremely well."

Although he was coming off an injury, Poole's stellar performance last weekend helped Tennessee push 12th-ranked LSU to the limit only to lose 16-14 on the game's final play.

"I was feeling good," he said. "I felt I came back from my thigh bruise well. I felt normal, and we was working good as an offense together."

With an 0-2 record in SEC play, Tennessee really needs a win Saturday in Athens. Poole is excited about the opportunity to get one in front of two dozen or so friends and family members.

"It'll be like coming back home," he said. "I have a good bit of people coming to the game, and a lot of them are Georgia fans."

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