Poole close to 1000 yard goal; Dooley praises "great young man"
Tennessee Stat Book
On the surface, the numbers don't add up. Derek Dooley even hesitated before trying to explain it Monday.
Tennessee junior running back Tauren Poole has just as many 100-yard rushing games (six) as Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, a Heisman trophy frontrunner, a total that's tied for the most among SEC ball-carriers. If he cracks the century mark Saturday at Vanderbilt (TV: CSS, 7:30 p.m.) and against Kentucky in the regular-season finale, Poole will not only clear 1,000 yards for the year, but will also set the UT record for most 100-yard games in a season, breaking the record of seven set by Travis Stephens in 2001.
Yet the Vols, as a team, are having a season to forget on the ground. Despite Poole's 107-yard effort against Ole Miss last week, they rank last in the SEC and 97th in the nation, averaging 118.9 yards per game and just 3.73 yards per carry.
"I don't know how best to say it," Dooley said. "The consistency of our run game has not been what we want it to be and that's not all on Tauren."
Of the other 11 starting running backs in the SEC, Poole has received the least amount of assistance from his backups. Poole's 836 yards account for more than 70 percent of the Vols' 1,189 for the season. Freshman Rajion Neal and sophomore David Oku have combined for just 327 yards on 73 carries.
It's a total that only four, true second-team running backs across the league have failed to reach by themselves this season.
"They've got to be more productive when they go in," Dooley said after Wednesday's practice. "I don't know how else to say it."
The past two games have provided ample opportunities for Neal and Oku, but neither has been able to pick up any significant gains. The duo has just 33 yards on 17 carries in UT's past two wins, and Neal has the Vols' only turnover during that stretch, as he fumbled on a fourth-quarter carry against Memphis.
"They just have to slow everything down in their head," Poole said. "They need to focus. I'm not saying that I'm always focused, but I pay attention. I pay attention to details. Sometimes details seem like they don't matter until you get in the game and they really do."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Poole's production, which includes a 5.5 yards-per-carry average, has contributed to Neal's and Oku's stalled output, and remains optimistic about their respective futures.
"It seems like every week one moves in front of the other one, so it's kind of fun to watch that competitive battle going on," he said. "We're very happy with both of those kids, and they're going to be very good football players as they compete their way to earn their spots."
Injury Roundup: After a setback in Tuesday's practice, cornerback Eric Gordon (concussion) wore a red, non-contact jersey and largely sat out Wednesday.
Wide receiver Zach Rogers (concussion) and safety Janzen Jackson (ankle) wore red and participated.
Right guard Zach Fulton (ankle) participated, but is not 100 percent, Dooley said. His status for Saturday remains uncertain.
"I'll feel better when (Fulton) comes back," Dooley said. "Every time somebody comes back, it's like starting over again because they don't have a lot to draw from."
Trash Talk: Linebacker Nick Reveiz and defensive end Chris Walker know Vanderbilt defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone well - well enough to hear through the grapevine what Greenstone's been saying about the Vols this week.
"I think he said something about how he hated Tennessee, hated the 'T,' couldn't stand Rocky Top and all that good stuff," Reveiz said.
Reveiz said he and Walker met Greenstone at an Athletes in Action camp this past summer and have remained close. Reveiz said he let Walker handle their collective retaliation.
"I just laughed," Reveiz said. "I try not to get too caught up in bulletin board material and try not to supply it, either. I just try to not say much."
High Praise: Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell had nothing but glowing words for freshman quarterback Tyler Bray when he spoke on Wednesday's SEC teleconference.
"I see a young man that seems to see the field extremely well, understands what they're trying to do," Caldwell said. "I've been very impressed with him, his arm strength. I know as young as he is, he's still doing a super job of seeing and understanding what's going on."