Tauren Poole had a lot to prove this fall after spending the 2009 season as Tennessee's No. 4 tailback. Thus motivated, he ran for 110 yards in the 2010 opener vs. UT Martin and 162 yards in Game 2 vs. Oregon.
Coming off his worst outing of the season - 33 yards on 16 carries last weekend at South Carolina - he may be even more motivated this week. Poole figures he let down his teammates by playing below his potential.
"When I was watching the film, it was actually on me," he said. "I missed a couple of cuts that could've made big plays. I wasn't disciplined in my eye control. That resulted in us not having a good game in the run game. I need to focus on what I can get better at - eye control and hitting it as much as I can."
Poole is one of Tennessee's hardest workers, so his paltry output vs. Carolina was not because he didn't try hard enough. More likely, it was because he tried too hard.
"Definitely. I was trying to do way too much," he said. "I was stopping my feet and trying to do way too much ... more than I was supposed to. Coach Dooley pointed it out. I was very disappointed in the way I played. I hurt my teammates by the way I played.
"We excelled in the passing game but you've got to have a solid running game in order to excel in this league. We fought hard but I didn't fight as hard as I could, and I have to be better."
Derek Dooley believes Poole sometimes underestimates his own talent level.
"I told Tauren, ‘I saw you outrun the entire Alabama secondary. But then you get the ball on the outside zone and you’ve got green grass, and you stop. You don’t trust your speed.’ I think that’s what it is," Tennessee's head coach said. "He doesn’t trust his abilities in some ways because he’s still sorting through it. So he gets a little jumpy out there. He ran a little jumpy the other day."
That's understandable, though. South Carolina has perhaps the finest defensive line in the SEC.
"Sometimes when you play a real good defensive line, they can make you jumpy," Dooley noted. "That had to contribute to it. Those guys are quick. They’re slanting, they’re moving, they’re on edge. You didn’t have clean reads all the time. Things would flash, and then you lose your trust a little bit. I think that’s what happened. I think that’s an experience issue, I do. Tauren’s a junior, but this is his first season playing."
Poole had a handy excuse for his play vs. the Gamecocks but he declined to use it. First-team fullback Kevin Cooper missed the game on academic suspension, robbing Poole of his lead blocker.
"That may have played a factor but I tried not to let it influence me," Poole said. "I trusted in (freshman fullback Channing) Fugate. Fugate played hard. He played extremely well."
Currently averaging 78.5 rushing yards per game, Poole is on pace to finish the season with 942 yards. Naturally, he'd love to crack the 1,000-yard barrier.
"It would mean a lot," he said. "I've worked toward getting a thousand yards, and I'm going to continue to work on it. I know the guys upfront are going to work with me to do the same thing."
Asked if he might take his linemen to lunch if he gets 1,000 yards, Poole grinned broadly and answered: "I'll do whatever I can to get a thousand."