Vols' security blanket

Neyland Stadium has provided home-field edge

There's more to Neyland Stadium than concrete, glass and steel.

For Tennessee's football team this season, it's been a lot more like a favorite sweatshirt or a warm quilt on a chilly night.

"You start winning at home, it's the psyche," Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge said. "I think anytime you're at home that comfort level is kind of there."

Lately, it's been more than just comfortable.

Entering today's 2 p.m. kickoff against Vanderbilt (TV: Pay-per-view), the Vols have outscored their last four opponents 93-3 in the first half at home.

During that stretch, which dates back to a 35-14 win over Georgia, only Arkansas has put any points on the board.

And for all the offensive struggles in the second half, the 19th-ranked Vols have scored 10 touchdowns and tried four field goals in the first half of those games.

How's that for home-field advantage?

"I think it starts at the Vol Walk," senior defensive end Xavier Mitchell said. "We hear tons of shouts like, 'Go get'em.' 'Get us a sack,'

"The fans, they want us to do well. You may not get a sack or an interception, but you know what kind of an effort they would like you to play with. There's a lot more to this team than just the players and the coaches."

Mitchell and Tennessee's 22 other seniors will go through their last Vol Walk and run through the "T" for the last time this afternoon.

And before going on the road for a possible SEC East-clinching victory next week at Kentucky, the Volunteers (7-3, 4-2 SEC) can wrap up their first undefeated home season since 1999 with a victory today over the Commodores.

To get there, the Vols have to do better than they did the last time Vanderbilt visited Tennessee.

In its last trip, Vandy put the dagger in Tennessee's worst season since 1988, when quarterback Jay Cutler engineered the game-winning drive to snap Tennessee's 22-game winning streak over its in-state rival.

This time, the Commodores (5-5, 2-5) don't have a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback, but they have a balanced offense and one of the best defenses in the conference.

The Commodores get to the quarterback more than any other conference team besides LSU, averaging more than two sacks a game.

All-SEC linebacker Jonathan Goff leads a defense that ranks third in the league in scoring defense (21.5 points per game) and third in total defense (325.7 yards per game).

"They're the best defense in the conference," UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "Not a lot of opportunities, period. They really provide a lot of challenges."

Lately, so have the Vols.

Since giving up 41 points and more than 500 yards at Alabama, Tennessee's defense has risen to the occasion.

Against South Carolina, the Vols' defense bowed its back late and in overtime provide a win.

Last week against Arkansas, the defense shut down Heisman Trophy hopeful Darren McFadden and the SEC's most potent run game.

Tennessee has also been rolling on special teams.

And then there's the takeaways.

In their last three games, the Vols have had nine turnovers, seven of which are interceptions.

"It makes all the difference in the world," UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. "When you take care of the football, you don't have penalties, you play the kicking game well and you get takeaways, you're going to win most of your games if everything's even."

According to odds makers, today's game isn't even.

The Vols enter as double-digit favorites, a role players said this week they'll be prepared to handle after playing so well this season as underdogs.

For one last time, the Vols will play on familiar turf, with a chance to finish off a perfect season in Neyland Stadium.

"Last couple years, we haven't played well at home, but we stepped up to the challenge this year," says receiver Josh Briscoe. "Our fans have been great. They've been here for us. We've got to continue to build on that and carry that to the away games."

If the Vols manage a victory today, there's one more looming.

Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2007, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2007 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 38

CrankE writes:

Crush 'em quick.

agentorange writes:

johnson is an awful coach without a bowl game. i suggest fulmer haters go to utsports.com and look at ut's all-time win/loss record under the different coaches. other than neyland, fulmer is by far the best. additionally, fulmer has won more games in a season than neyland ever did in a time much more competitive than neyland coached in. you'll also notice that ut has had several losing seasons in its history, the least of which, have occurred under fulmer.

Oenoboy writes:

Hey wait a minute agentorange. Give it a shot first. Ah yes, just imagine us having a coach like Bobby Johnson. Forget the fact he's never had a winning season in Div I football and forget that his one championship season at Furman came with three losses. At least he's thin! Man, wouldn't that be great...just imagine…replacing our coaching team of Fulmer, Chavis, and Cutcliff who together have a 60-12 record for an NCAA high 83% winning percentage with a coach that has a career winning percentage of less that 50%. Man, just imagine what he could do with our players.

Ok, I’m tryinnnng…it’s almost therrrrrre…uhhhh…nope, just don’t see it.

How about imagining this? Fulmer's foot up all the negativity addicts' asses. Oh yeah, now that I can imagine.

OldNumber7 writes:

I think the point is he coaches well with very little in the stable. To be knowledgeable at this you must look beyond wins and losses and at who is getting the most out of their players - Fulmer does not.

Take Woody Wiedenhoffer for example. Lost they did, but he outcoached your prized 3 phenoms every year they played.

fivewides writes:

Imagine if these posters realized how old and cliché the coach bashing is and had to come up with a substantive thought....scary.

Oenoboy writes:

RocktVol, they are OUR prized phenom coaches and as good a defensive coach Woody was, he was 0-5 and the total score over those five games was 152-46 with two shut outs. Yep, they got outcoached there. Come on Rocket, when you are coaching a squad that has nothing to loose, you can pull out all the risky plays and schemes.

Woody was one of the greatest defensive coaches of all time in the NFL. He was not however even a good NCAA head coach. He failed at Missouri and Vanderbilt miserably. You can’t use the schools as an excuse. Look what Spurrier did at Duke and look at Missouri today.

So, you look beyond wins and losses? Come on! Don’t start telling me you would be satisfied with a 6-6 record every year as long as YOU felt our coaches were getting the best out of our players. Who are you, me, or anyone else on this site to think we know what these coaches are pulling out of these young men. Recruiting is a crapshoot and coaches really don’t know what they have until they get the players on campus and see how they react to the speed, pressure, and intensity of this level.

kb7398#233189 writes:

Let's all just be thankful the tradition is still great at Tennessee DESPITE all the detractors and armchair quarterbacks. Fulmer's record speaks for itself and he sure doesn't have to apologize to any of us for having endured the barbs over his weight, the years when the Vols don't win it all or anything else really. All you haters need to just back off him and enjoy it when we're watching the Vols in Atlanta (no thanks to any hater).

Volalumnus writes:

If you line up a few plush green trees at the edge of the woods, it is hard to see all the dead trees in the rest of it.

OldNumber7 writes:

Oenoboy - you still miss the point. The point is that there are coaches that do a lot with very little that don't necessarily have winning records. Did Saban win a Natl title or even Big Ten at Michigan State? NO! - But LSU looked passed the record at what he did with little talent and look where they and he are now.

..and no, Tennessee struggled (yes Manning struggled) to score anything on Woody. Those years he outcoached Fulmer hand over fist - and the Manning-led Vols barely won. How you think 6-6 at Vandy would translate to 6-6 with a much greater talent pool befoggles my mind - yes, you can use the school as an excuse (see Saban). Today's NCAA is loaded with top coaches who did a lot with very little then landed a job where the talent put them over the edge. You need to lose your narrow-minded vision of this game. What matters is what you do with the talent you have - and Tennessee has underachieved for 2 decades.

We had a Pro-Bowl NFL Team in 1998 and they nearly lost 1/3 of their games. If not for very fortunate calls, late-late-late touchdowns/kicks, and lightening striking Arkansas.....nuff said.

DennisVols writes:

The Most Important Game Of The Year
The way it used to be is over in college football. Tradition no longer wins games. Ask a N.D. fan about that. Last night #2 Oregon played an unranked team and walked out knowing their shot at a National Championship was over. This was the 5th time this year that #2 in the country lost to a lesser or un-ranked team. “One game one championship.” This is the playoff system in the BCS division.
Week 5: #3 OU loses, #4 UF loses, #5 WVA loses. Two of those losses came to UN-Ranked teams
Week 6: #2 USC loses, #5 Wisc. Loses. Both to UN-Ranked teams
Week 7: #1 LSU, #2 Cal both lose. Cal to an UN-Ranked team LSU to #17 UK which had tradition in the cellar of the SEC not beating #1 ranked teams in the Nation.
Week 8: #2 USF, #6 USC(the SEC one) & #7 UK all lose. While UK getting beat by #15 Florida Gators may not be an upset, having the #6 team beat by Vanderbilt and the #2 USF going down to Rutgers was.
Week 10: #2 BCU lost to a 6-3 FSU
Week 11: #1 OSU loses at home to Illinois
And now we start week 12 with #2 Oregon going down to AZ.
Each team had their shot at #1 taken away from them, even though LSU has managed to regain it. Dream seasons for UK, USF, USC (both of them), Cal and others were lost during “The Most Important Game of the Year”. What is the most important game of the year? Ask a UT fan and you will get most to claim the UF games, an equal amount of traditional fans will shout it’s “the 3rd Sat in Oct” the Bama game, and some the UGA game. Yet here we stand at week 12 and UT faces a stronger Vanderbilt team and a win will place UT just one win away from a trip to ATL and a chance at a SEC Championship. Is the Vandy game not the most important game of the year for UT? Or if they win is the UK the most important game of the year?
The fact is that in the BCS division every game is the most important game you play. There will always be rivalries, UM-OSU, UT-Bama, GA-Auburn, winning the big SEC game against UF will be high on the list for UT. You cannot take any game for granted. They are all “The Most Important Game Of The Year”

wyomingvol writes:

Yeah GR, I really wish we had Vandy's coach......

Or maybe I will take consistent winning seasons vs. a highly ranked D once in a while.

Oenoboy writes:

Rocket, Rocket, Rocket...sigh.

Struggled to score anything? We averaged 30pts a game!!! In three of the games we beat them 41-0, 38-10, and 38-0...how is that struggling to score? This is one of the most ludicrous debates I’ve ever had in my life.

Narrow minded? Let me expand my narrow mind for a minute. Tennessee since Fulmer took over...

1 NC
2 SEC Championships (would be 3 in the old system)
6 SEC East crowns
12 January Bowl Games
16 Home Losses (1.1 yearly avg)
1 loosing season

In the 40 years between Neyland and Fulmer…

0 NC
4 SEC Championships
9 January Bowl Game (10 if you count the Citrus in 83)
62 Home losses (1.5 yearly avg)
7 loosing seasons

Seems to me it is you that has a narrow one-track get-rid-of-Fulmer mind or else you have a very short memory of where we were before him.

DennisVols writes:

Over the last 7 games how has UT compared to other SEC EAST, Bama and LSU
(1) UT Average Points Per Game Allowed: 21
(2) LSU Average Points Per Game Allowed: 22.85
(3) UA Average Points Per Game Allowed:24.28
(4) UGA Average Points Per Game Allowed: 25.14
(5) USC Average Points Per Game Allowed: 28.86
(6) UF Average Points Per Game Allowed: 29.14
(1)LSU Average Points Per Game Scored: 36.57
(2) UT Average Points Per Game Scored: 36.14
(3) UF Average Points Per Game Scored: 35.14
(4) UGA Average Points Per Game Scored: 33.74
(5) USC Average Points Per Game Scored: 27.71
(6) UA Average Points Per Game Scored: 25.86
UT, UGA & LSU: 6-1
UF: 4-3
USC& UA:3-4
UT has the lowest scoring defense over those 7 game, the 2nd highest scoring offense and tie for the best record.

TommyJack writes:

Rainman: The "yawn" post is getting stale.

Volalumnus writes:

random guesses are sometimes right
points in time can look good or bad.
However trends are not good for TN over the season or the last 5 or 6 or 7 years.
If you want a measuring stick TN doesn't ever get the benifit of the doubt anymore in the vegas odds against solid but unranked teams.
Unbiased groups no longer pick TN to be a contender.
The quality of play and team they have shown over a period of time.
One game and really one season isn't going to change that.

Oenoboy writes:

I'm sorry ranzy, you make good points but I don't use Vegas as a measuring stick.

I'm not happy with `05 but one loosing season does not erase the twelve prior years. If we did not improve each year afterwards, I would be right there with you and everyone else pulling for a coaching change. However, we are improving and have a good opportunity to play in Atlanta. With our Frosh and Sophs playing the way they are now, I think the next two years are going to be even better. What else can we expect?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Great post, grvol, can you imagine Phil with Vandy's players! Wow, boggles the mind! Opens up all kind of possibilities!

GreerVol22 writes:

Well, Well, the defense of old has brought their "D" game.....Wide open for the TD both times and playing 15 yards off the receivers. Nice Chavis!. And arn't we all glad that Cutcliff is padding Ainges stats?

Oh my a beautiful lateral!!!

utvols1 writes:

I can't believe that Phil can't get this team to step it up. We'll be down by two posessions at the half. What a joke.

volfanjustin writes:

At this rate atleast we dont have to worry about getting killed by LSU

yeavols#228407 writes:

24-9 third qtr..Vandy..I can only imagine what is going through everyone's minds

GreerVol22 writes:

right O, we lose again next week and we won't even have to worry about leaving the state! I see quit in these boys after that TD...shame.

jonesboroughvolfan writes:

volfanjustin: would you rather be killed by LSU or friggin' Vanderbilt?

GreerVol22 writes:

Ainge is a manic bafoon with the pressure. Stay in the damn pocket coward!

Retiredvol writes:

Another week that Fulmer has not prepared this Tennessee team. I am not a Fulmer hater but the inconsistency of this team is absolutely embarrassing. Vols lose to Vandy 2 out of the past 3 years. It is time for a change in Knoxville!!!

whittemores#577495 writes:

I hope they can pull this one out, but it looks as though Georgia will be heading to the Dome for the SEC title. Sad thing is that I live in Georgia and have to hear them cheer about it....What is up with Ainge??? He is continuing to throw behind the receiver??

utvols1 writes:

Why is this suprising to ANYONE. This is a classic Fulmer screw up. With everything to play for this team lays an egg. This happens ALL the time in these MUST win situations against a pretty lame Vandy team. COACHING-and lack of it. This team wasn't prepared and is shows. GET RID OF PHIL FOR GOD'S sake!!

Retiredvol writes:

Florida beat FAU today 59-20 are we that bad?

gvegasvol writes:

this one was never in doubt

Volnut writes:



We should all send the Vandy coaches a thank you card!
Go Vols!

FWBVol writes:

I don't think anyone can blame the coaching, at least on the offensive side, for the closeness of this game. I was listening to it via the internet (No mas, with Kesling), and it seems the biggest problem was Ainge's execution in the second and third quarters. Kesling and Tim Priest were commenting on how poorly Ainge threw the ball in the middle of the game as compared to how he was throwing in the first quarter, and how he picked it up again in the fourth.

From what I heard, the UT coaches remained agressive with their play calling and were trying to stretch the field.

Bottom line is a win is a win and, I know everyone hates this, we still control our own destiny.

Ironcity writes:

We use to compain about losing the close ones. No one can complain about that anymore. Just one more guys! Go Vols


Did I say the Vols didn't earn it??
Read my post again and shut up!

King30 writes:

Player of the game...NO DOUBT...
Dennis Rogan! 146 return yards. A 41 yard kickoff return AND a 45 yard punt return (the BIG one!), to set up the winning field goal.
Nice job rookie!

splinterdand#602266 writes:

I will never criticize any player for what they do on the field. Lord knows I can't do what they do. But, I just don't like Ainge. He's spent more time during his career here passing the buck than taking the blame for his own shortcomings. I've heard some say he's more talented than Tee Martin and will play in the NFL. But, he certainly doesn't have the character or courage of Martin.

whittemores#577495 writes:

Tee Martin was a good player. However, where is he now?? Coaching right down the street from me at North Cobb High School in metro Atlanta. Ainge will play in the NFL and I'm sure he'll be a 1st round draft pick.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

On to the Cats! We had 'em all the way! Didn't know if was meant to be with field goals bouncing off uprights, missed extra points and then, that sweet Vandy roughing-the-kicker! Later on the the year we'll get our WR routes figured out. You're not going to sack Ainge, at least he'll unload it. Great blood pressure win, death struggle with Dores, now on to Lexington! Just heard Phil's conterpart twin, Carr is stepping down Monday at Mich! Go Vols!

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.