Tauren Poole is batting .500 when it comes to putting up 100 yards or more against college football’s elite this season.
If the Tennessee tailback cracks the century mark Saturday against Alabama, it would be the equivalent of snapping a perfect game in the ninth inning.
Make that the 41st inning.
On Oct. 3, 2007, Ole Miss running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 131 yards in a 27-24 loss to Alabama. One week later, UT’s Arian Foster ran for 91 yards on 13 carries, kicking off the streak of 41 straight games Alabama has wiped off its schedule without allowing a single runner to amass 100 or more rushing yards.
It’s not exactly a coincidence that Alabama is 34-7 over that stretch, either.
“First of all, it’s nearly impossible to run the ball,” UT coach Derek Dooley, who was 12 games short when estimating the length of Alabama’s 100-yard streak, said Monday. “That isn’t luck. They’ve got some stout guys up front, and I mean stout.”
Since Foster’s 91-yard day, only five other players have even cracked 90 yards against Alabama, which was the nation’s second-best rushing defense last season and currently sits at 19th (fifth in the SEC) heading into Saturday’s game at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.). South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, who spearheaded the Gamecocks’ upset of Alabama earlier this month with 92 yards and three touchdowns, was the first player in more than a year to come within single digits of 100.
In the Vols’ two previous losses to Alabama, they’ve barely combined for 100 yards as a team (111), and the best individual effort came from Montario Hardesty in 2009, when he averaged 2.7 yards per carry on his way to a 48-yard day.
“They fly to the ball,” Dooley said. “Then, like they always do, they get you behind the chains.
“That’s not luck. That’s good defense.”
The Vols, behind a patchwork offensive line that’s been ravaged by injuries, might just have the tailback to break the streak in Poole.
Two of Poole’s three 100-yard games this season have come against teams that still have yet to lose.
His 162 yards against No. 1 Oregon marked a career high and stands as the most surrendered to one player this season by the Ducks, who, despite a headline-stealing offense, rank 38th in the nation in both rushing defense and total defense. He snapped LSU’s streak of six consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher when he notched 109 and a touchdown in UT’s near upset in Baton Rouge.
LSU, the SEC’s top-ranked rushing defense, has yet to have any other player crack 75 rushing yards against it this season.
“I just have to do what I have to do to help this University of Tennessee football team, and if 100 yards is what I have to do, we’ll do it to the best of our abilities,” Poole said. “I know that’s a great accomplishment for them and I know they pride themselves on not letting anybody run the football.”
Alabama’s front seven, which features a bevy of new faces and two big-time old ones in defensive end Marcell Dareus and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, has stopped its opponents’ running attack in an entirely different fashion this season.
One year after ranking 10th in the nation and best in the SEC with 98 tackles for loss, the Crimson Tide has just 32 through seven games, a total that ranks last in the conference. Instead of stopping plays behind the line of scrimmage, Alabama has thrived on minimizing the big ones.
San Jose State running back Brandon Rutley’s 32-yard run on the Crimson Tide’s first defensive series of the year stands as its longest rushing gain surrendered this season. Opponents have broken off gains of more than 20 yards on just five other occasions.
“Their front four is probably the best in the country,” Poole said. “The way they play with leverage, how fast they play and how they’re in the right spots at the right time almost every single play.
“We’re going to have to be consistent all game, and it’s going to be an incredible challenge for us. I think we’re going to take that challenge as far as we can.”
Andrew Gribble can be reached at 865-342-6327.