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Tennessee Stat Book
The statistical difference was subtle.
Tauren Poole took fewer handoffs and wound up with a couple more yards, and backup Marlin Lane again provided the scoring punch on the goal line.
But compared with the evaluation after the season opener, it was clear Tennessee felt there was more than just slight improvement from its rushing attack as it rolled over Cincinnati 45-23 on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium. And while the Vols certainly have established themselves as a more prolific threat through the air early in the season, Poole has somewhat quietly given them almost exactly 100 yards apiece in their two wins — and yet another element of danger for a defense.
"Tauren really ran well," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "That was a solid game, and Poole had a lot more commitment in his runs.
"There were times when we didn't run it well, but for the most part we did. And when you throw it for 405 and then you've got a 100-yard back ..."
Dooley didn't need to finish his thought for the message to be clear.
The Vols (2-0) have legitimate weapons at pretty much every position on offense, and with Poole finishing with 101 yards on the ground, quarterback Tyler Bray picking apart the secondary and Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers both going into triple-digit receiving yardage, it's tough to key on any one player right now.
There was some hand-wringing about the ground game after UT struggled at times to move the line of scrimmage against Montana and Poole occasionally showing some uncertainty with the ball in his hands. But he still wrapped up that game with 98 yards and a touchdown, and at this early stage of the year only three tailbacks in the SEC have more rushing production than Poole.
"I'm kind of a motivated type of guy, a lot of guys have looked down on me and that's OK, because it's fuel to my fire and I use it on the field," Poole said. "I'm going to continue to do that.
"That was fun (against the Bearcats), had a lot of fun out there. I give that 100 yards to Da'Rick and Justin, though, those guys played great. That's expected, and I'm just excited for what they're going to do this year."
The game-breaking ability of those sophomore receivers can have a big impact on what Poole is able to do this fall also, with Hunter and Rogers already forcing teams to devote more attention to UT's high-powered passing game — opening up some holes for the running backs in the process.
Just about the only lingering issue for the Vols is finding another option to consistently help take some of the workload off Poole. That effort had some hiccups against Cincinnati (1-1).
Lane plowed in for another short touchdown, already the third of the freshman's career, and Rajion Neal flashed his speed on an end-around that produced 12 yards and a first down. But both of those backup options lost fumbles that could prove costly as the level of competition goes up yet again with UT heading to play No. 16 Florida (2-0) on Saturday.
"We still don't have what we need behind him," Dooley said. "Tauren Poole ran a lot better, and there was a lot of improvement in those areas.
"The disappointing part is we put two balls on the ground and we've got to keep working those young guys — especially in the fourth quarter. That was the only way we could screw the game up and we tried."
There obviously wasn't anything subtle about that assessment.
But after wrapping up another dynamic offensive outing, there didn't seem to be much else for Dooley to worry about.