Vols gear up for No. 2 Alabama

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (school release) -- The last time Tennessee traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Crimson Tide was the No. 1 ranked team in the country. Two years later, Alabama (7-0) is ranked second - but it might be even better this go around.

"It's (Nick Saban's) best team," head coach Derek Dooley said. "(It's) probably as physically as dominating defense as I've seen in the modern era of football and I know that is strong statement, but I believe it. You catch yourself watching them, not studying them. They've given up seven points a game, 38 yards rushing a game, 184 total yards a game.

And in this era doing something like that, it's a combination of doing everything. (They're) incredibly talented at every position, great coaching and just a relentless dominating style of play. You look at their three running backs and every one of them is averaging six or seven yards a carry."

While the Vols are averaging 383 yards of offense, they amounted a season-low 239 yards against the Tigers. Things won't get easier on Saturday against Alabama.

"You see probably prototype size and athleticism at every position," Dooley said. "You see experience, they are all back from last year. I think all eleven guys are juniors and seniors so there is a lot of experience. You aren't going to fool them. There is no play that is going to get them. Of course, the scheme is very good."

Senior tailback Tauren Poole wasn't in any hurry to accept praise for recording the highest total of rushing yards (70) by an individual against LSU's defense this season.

"I credit Bart (Ben Bartholomew)," Poole said. "I credit the offense line. I credit Matt (Simms) for getting us into the right checks that we needed. We succeeded in the run game. The result wasn't what we wanted but we made progress and we're going to have to continue to run the football, especially this week, and continue to move the ball the best that we can."

Despite a struggle to run the ball this season, Tennessee has continued to work at it and showed improvement against the Tigers, who had allowed just 69.2 rushing yards per game coming in. The Vols finished with 111 total yards, including a career-high 43 from freshman tailback Marlin Lane.

"I think we did a lot better job identifying linebackers and the O-Line worked a lot all last week on getting the run game better," junior fullback Ben Bartholomew said. "We were just a lot more physical this week. I think we're going to continue to press being more physical, just exploding off the ball and being more downhill because that will definitely help the run game."

Also helping the run game is the belief that the Vols can continue to improve upon their performance Saturday.

"I feel confident," Poole said. "I feel more confident in the offensive line and the fullbacks than anything. Those guys played really hard and my progression was there. My production was there. That's why I give it all to them.

"I didn't do anything spectacular. All I did was just run and that's what the offensive line told me to do. Hats off to those guys, Bart and Fugate for just practicing hard and it opened up the run game for us."

Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson enters Saturday's contest against Tennessee coming off the best game of his collegiate career after rushing for a personal-best 183 yards and a whopping four touchdowns against Ole Miss last week.

For the season, the Heisman Trophy hopeful ranks second in the nation with 912 rushing yards and third with 15 touchdowns.

"There is a lot to say about that guy," Tennessee linebacker Austin Johnson said. "He is a great back, Heisman-trophy back. He is a hard, downhill runner, he is physical, he's hard to bring down. It's something that I look forward to this week. It's going to be a big challenge and I'm excited. He's kind of in a category of his own. He's definitely an elite back."

The Vols will have their hands full trying to slow Richardson down, but that is a challenge they are looking forward to confronting head on.

"It's big guys that play physical and you know their coaches love trying to run the ball right down the middle," UT defensive lineman Daniel Hood said. "For me, that's the biggest challenge, and that's the kind of challenge I like. I don't like chasing down screen (passes) or anything like that. It takes real mean to be able to stop the run, and we're going to have to step up to be able to do that this week."

Making Tennessee's task to slow down Richardson even more difficult is Alabama's ability to play off the run and throw the ball around the field with accuracy. That balance

"You worry so much about the running game and try to load the box to stop that and then they can throw on you at any moment," Johnson said. "That's definitely something that gives them an advantage. Also, their offensive line is fast and physical. They can definitely move and that makes it challenging for the defense. It kind of brings them all together. They don't really have a weakness I would say."

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