By Matt Dixon
KNOXVILLE — Before Saturday night, the Alabama defense hadn’t allowed a running back to rush for more than 100 yards in 41 games.
Tennessee running back Tauren Poole almost accomplished the feat by halftime, gaining 97 yards on just eight carries in the game’s first 30 minutes.
For the game, the junior from Toccoa, Ga., ran 14 times for 117 yards and UT’s only touchdown.
“It shows how hard we are working as a team,” Poole said of his performance. “It was a good accomplishment for me, but it’s not an individual game. I told myself I was going to come out and play to the best of my abilities and show people that I can play in this league.”
“It was great to show it against a great defense like Alabama.”
During the first half, Poole matched the rushing total of Alabama’s one-two punch of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The Crimson Tide duo also accumulated 97 yards on the ground in the first half.
After a 5-yard loss on his first carry during the Vols’ first possession of the game, Poole took his second carry 59 yards for a touchdown to put the Vols on top 7-0 with 8:44 to play in the first quarter.
“I hit it straight downhill and it opened up. It was a huge crease,” Poole said. “I believe anybody could’ve hit it the way I hit it, but it was off to the races then, and it was just a great time to get into the end zone for the University of Tennessee.”
Poole’s touchdown ignited the Neyland Stadium crowd and sent Vols fans into a frenzy.
“That was real exciting,” UT left tackle Dallas Thomas said of Poole’s run. “The crowd was going wild, we were like ‘Yeah, this is going to be a good, physical, long game.’”
Poole was also instrumental in getting the Vols three points at the end of the first half. He had runs of 8, 13 and 15 yards to help set up freshman kicker Michael Palardy’s 33-yard field goal on the final play of the half. That ended up being the final points for the Vols.
With a makeshift offensive line going against an aggressive blitzing Crimson Tide defense, the Vols were playing out of shotgun formations for much of the night, limiting the opportunities Poole had to carry the ball.
After falling behind 27-10 midway through the third quarter, the Vols had to mostly abandon the running game.
“We kind of slowed down in the second half. We weren’t running like we did in the first half. That’s something that we have to correct as an offense,” Poole said. “We’ve got to work on that as a team, and I think we will and we’ll be all right.”
At the 6:20 mark of the third quarter, Poole gained 3 yards on a handoff he took off left tackle to put him over the century mark for the game. It was his fourth triple-figure rushing game of the season. He had 110 yards against UT-Martin, 162 against Oregon and 109 at LSU.