Running battle

He won't be tackling Alabama's Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Heck, he won't even be on the field when they are. Still, Tennessee's Tauren Poole will be competing with the Tide's talented tailback tandem this weekend.

Ingram won the 2009 Heisman Trophy, and Richardson is widely regarded as his equal. Still, Poole is determined that he won't be the third-best back on the field when the Vols and Tide collide Saturday night at 7 in Neyland Stadium.

"It's all about competition, and I'm competing against those guys; it's no secret," the 5-11, 213-pound Vol junior said. "I'm happy that I'm competing against some of the best backs in the SEC. I've got to bring my best because I know they're going to bring their best."

Much as an artist enjoys the work of other great artists, Poole enjoys watching Ingram and Richardson showcase their skills.

"I watch them a lot," he said. "I like to learn from the best, and those are two of the best backs in the SEC."

Whether Poole can hang with the Tide duo remains to be seen. He'll be facing a Bama defense that hasn't allowed an opposing back to rush for 100 yards in the past 41 games. That's the longest such streak in college football, so Poole's challenge is an imposing one.

"I've got to do what I've got to do to help this University of Tennessee football team," he said. "If 100 yards is what I have to do, I think we'll do it and we'll do it to the best of our ability.

"I know they (Tide defenders) pride themselves on not letting anybody run the football, and a lot of guys haven't excelled running the football on them. The biggest thing for us is just doing what we have to do as an offense to get points on the board."

Working in Poole's favor is the fact his legs are fresh, since the Vols are coming off an open date.

"They feel great," he said. "The rest helped me recover. My legs felt kind of heavy during that stretch of (six consecutive) games but now I feel good. I'm ready to run."

He believes his teammates were revitalized by the bye week, as well.

"I think we needed it," he said. "It's a big thing for us to show we're rested up and ready to go."

Unfortunately for the Vols, not all of their top offensive linemen are ready to go. Sophomore tackle Dallas Thomas appears OK but junior center Cody Pope is still out and redshirt freshman guard JerQuari Schofield is doubtful. Schofield's return would be a big boost for the Big Orange.

"That would be great. Schofield is an incredible offensive lineman," Poole said. "I hope he can play through it (discomfort). I know it's going to be painful but we need him."

Even without Schofield, Tennessee's offense has made some strides in recent weeks. Quarterback Matt Simms completed 59 of 101 passes for 803 yards and 6 touchdowns over the past four games. And the return of senior receiver Gerald Jones has helped the Vols convert on a combined 13 of 28 third-down tries over the past two games.

"The passing game is coming along," Poole said. "We've got G. Jones back, and he's a great leader, doing a great job. Justin Hunter is making some incredible plays. I knew he'd come along sooner or later."

Given Alabama's superior run defense, Tennessee will need big games from wideouts Jones and Hunter Saturday night in order to loosen things up a bit for the ground attack.

"The biggest thing is getting the run and the pass to work," Poole said. "When you get the pass going, the run will open up."

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