KNOXVILLE — Tennessee provided an unfamiliar sight during the second half of Saturday afternoon’s game against top-ranked LSU.
The Volunteers, who entered the game with minus-29 yards rushing in two SEC losses, were consistently running the football against a vaunted Tigers defense.
“As bad as our running game has been, we ran the ball pretty well against a great defense,” coach Derek Dooley said after UT’s 38-7 loss. “[Tailback] Tauren Poole ran really well. He was focused and wasn’t trying to make big plays. He was jamming it up in there, and the line blocked well.”
The senior had 30 yards on seven carries on the Vols’ lone scoring drive, and he finished with 70 yards on 19 carries. UT finished with 111 yards. Dooley said quarterback Matt Simms, who was starting for injured Tyler Bray, helps UT’s run game.
“Matt deserves some credit for that,” Dooley said. “He really helps giving us a chance giving him some good looks. [He] gives the players a better chance.”
Said Simms: “[There’s] a few situations there where you have to see the front and adjust the different looks that they gave us. I think overall I did an OK job with that today.”
The Vols’ run game hurt them in a crucial time, though. Trailing 24-7 in the third quarter, Simms ran an option to Poole, who took the pitch going right before stopping and looking to his left. The 7-yard loss killed a potential scoring drive that might have kept UT in the game a little longer.
“We’ve got to trust our speed and keep running,” Dooley said. “I don’t want to beat him up over that, but that was a big play. You have to keep staying in the fight and hopefully something good will happen — that’s the key. You have to keep in the two- to three-score range and wait for your opportunity.”
Cornerbacks Marsalis Teague and Izauea Lanier had long afternoons against LSU receivers Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham. Randle had a key catch-and-run for 45 yards that set up LSU’s field goal just before halftime.
It was a similar situation to last week’s loss to Georgia, when the Vols played one-on-one coverage and loaded up to stop the run.
“We were struggling at corner,” Dooley said. “Their guys were up on our guys on the perimeter. It’s the same old deal. You have to stop the run game. We aren’t that young in the secondary.”
Prentiss Waggner briefly left the game after making a second-quarter tackle, and when he returned to the game in the second half, he mostly played cornerback with freshman Brian Randolph, who finished with nine tackles, at safety.
UT completed only six passes, and none of them went to tight end Mychal Rivera, who had five catches for 85 yards against Georgia.
“We were concerned going into the game that we didn’t have enough for Mike,” Dooley said. “A lot of it is because of the pressures you max-protect. That is a dilemma with a tight end. He’s a good protector, but he’s also a weapon. [Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney] and I said it all week: ‘We don’t feel like we have enough for Mike.’ We called some things to get him the ball, and it just wasn’t there.”
Receiver Da’Rick Rogers finished with 63 yards on three catches.
Marlon Walls started at defensive end in place of Ben Martin and finished with a tackle for loss. ... Freshman Devrin Young caught a 21-yard shovel pass and had 135 kickoff return yards, including a 60-yarder. ... Three of UT’s top four tackles — linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt and Randolph — are freshmen. ... UT used kicker Michael Palardy instead of Matt Darr on a punt out of the Vols’ end zone in the second quarter.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...