KNOXVILLE -- The defense got tougher, but Tauren Poole ran harder.
Tennessee's senior tailback followed up a seven-carry, 7-yard performance that was hampered by a hamstring injury against Georgia's 21st-ranked run defense with a 19-carry, 70-yard game against a LSU unit that's sixth nationally in stopping the run.
"I was definitely just seeing things better, and I got the ball a lot more times than I'd been getting it this year," Poole said Monday. "I see myself as a rhythm runner, and that means when I get the ball, I see things and I can get better the next play because I know I'm continuing to get it and I know they're going to feed me. The run game was there because the O-line blocked well, the fullbacks blocked well and we continue to run hard as runners."
The Volunteers entered the 38-7 loss to the top-ranked Tigers with minus-29 rushing yards in two Southeastern Conference losses, but they left the game feeling better about a much-maligned aspect of the offense. With second-ranked Alabama's run defense, which is the best in the nation at a slim 38 yards per game, next on deck, the Vols will need to keep running with some success.
With the thumb injury to starter Tyler Bray, UT might have the quarterback best suited for a running game. The Vols' passing game loses plenty without the sophomore's talented arm, but the rushing attack has been better with senior Matt Simms running the offense.
"Matt helps you in the run game -- it's one of his strengths -- by trying to get you in good looks, giving you a little better schematic advantage," coach Derek Dooley said. "He has an ability to recognize fronts and know what to run and where to run it. When you're a good running team, that's what you have to do. You can't just call a play. If they have that play taken away schematically, you have to be able to counter it.
"He helps us in that. It doesn't mean you're going to get yards, but it gives you a chance. There's sometimes you run and you just have no chance if you don't have a quarterback who can get you out of it."
Bray and Simms have started seven games each against BCS-conference opposition the past two seasons, and while Poole's yards-per-carry number is only slightly higher with Simms, he's averaging 81 yards per game with Simms to 62 with Bray with 21 more overall carries.
The level of defense is a factor as well. Simms' seven starts include Oregon, Alabama, South Carolina and LSU twice, while Bray's stretch includes Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
"With Matt we definitely know what we're seeing," Poole said. "He knows a lot administratively. He [identified] the guys, and the run game was there. Guys knew who to block."
Dooley said Simms has more freedom to audible and check to different plays at the line of scrimmage than the younger Bray. The Vols probably are more inclined to gear their offense around Bray's abilities as a passer, especially with a healthy Justin Hunter at receiver on one side and Da'Rick Rogers on the other.
"We try to shape our plan around our players," Dooley said. "Sometimes that slows Tyler down and it starts affecting him throwing the ball. He's sitting there spending all his energy trying to figure out [the front], and that's something Tyler has to improve on. He knows that.
"I think it's experience. Some guys see things naturally that others don't. Tyler, when he drops back in the pocket, he naturally sees things that a lot of quarterbacks don't. Conversely, I think Matt, in the run game, see things that Tyler doesn't."
The Vols averaged 34 points per game in Bray's 10 starts the past two seasons to 20 with Simms, and Poole is fine handling anything the Vols' offense requires from him.
"With Matt we create balance [by opening] up the pass with the run as best we can," he said. "With Tyler we can throw the ball 50 times, and that's just the way it goes. Tyler has a great arm, and he's a great quarterback. Matt's a different quarterback with a different style.
"I'm for whatever. It doesn't even matter. I'll run it; I'll pass-block. This is preparing me for whatever the occasion is with the game plan."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.