Dave Hooker audio
ATHENS, Ga. — Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer knows what’s going to happen this week as fans digest an 0-3 start in the SEC and another double-digit loss to a conference rival.
After Saturday’s 26-14 loss to No. 10 Georgia, Fulmer said he expects to be criticized.
And he knows he probably won’t be the only one taking heat from fans.
“Everybody in the world is going to talk about me,” Fulmer said. “They’re going to talk about our staff. They’re going to talk about (the players) and what kind of backbone we’ve got.
“Look ’em in the eye and say, ‘I’m not quitting.’ Who’s going to stand up? They got to go on campus, out and about. They better be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘Hey, I did my best.’ That’s the staff, and that’s me and that’s everybody else.”
Fulmer vowed to keep fighting to get Tennessee back on track.
“You stay in this business long enough and you’re going to have ups and downs,” said Fulmer, who coached his 198th game as UT’s head coach. “I’ve won a lot more than I’ve lost. I’ve been disappointed in every dang one of them we lost (and) felt like this. I’m not going to do anything but keep fighting.”
He also said that’s what he expects his players to do this week in practice as they prepare for Mississippi State’s trip to Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
“I think they’re human, and they’re going to be disappointed and wondering and looking around for leadership,” Fulmer said. “Most of us, I hope, will come right back to work and put our nose to the grindstone until we get it right.”
What does UT have to do in order to start winning?
“Simple fact, we got to execute better . . . get ourselves where we keep our focus (and) we don’t beat ourselves,” Fulmer said. “That’s a few words, but a lot to do.”
Lots Of Laundry: The Vols finished with 10 penalties for 97 yards against Georgia. Both of those are season highs for UT, which had 95 penalty yards in a 30-6 loss to Florida.
Tennessee also was whistled for four personal fouls. Defensive tackle Dan Williams said Georgia baited UT into some of those plays.
“Coach always reminds us every time you go on the field, keep your head,” Williams said. “I won’t say we just did it on our own. The Georgia players did kind of provoke us. It’s out of our hands. We just have to be more mature and control our actions.
“By no means are they a dirty team or anything like that. It’s just regular stuff that goes on during the game, a little pushing. It kind of was frustrating.”
UT entered Saturday’s game 10th in the SEC with an average of seven penalties for 59 yards a game. Georgia, which led the nation in most penalty yardage coming into the game, had 11 penalties for 76 yards Saturday.
Return Record for Berry: Tennessee safety Eric Berry claimed UT’s career interception return yardage record by virtue of his 54-yard return of a pick in the third quarter.
Berry has nine interception returns for 325 yards, moving ahead of Tim Priest and Mike Jones, both of whom shared the record with 305 yards.
Berry, who moved into third place on the SEC’s career list, is 55 yards away from breaking Ole Miss’ Bobby Wilson’s record of 379 yards.
“He’s a leader, and an awesome player and those are the kind of plays he makes,” UT safety Demetrice Morley said of Berry.
Injury Update: Defensive end Chris Walker suffered an injury to his lower back and did not play in the second half.
Defensive tackle Walter Fisher left the game with an injury to a toe on his right foot. He left Sanford Stadium in a walking boot.
Strongside linebacker Nevin McKenzie also suffered a left ankle injury.
Douglas, Lathers Surgeries Successful: Tight end Aaron Douglas (shoulder) and linebacker Herman Lathers (tonsils) were released from UT Medical Center on Saturday morning following successful surgeries on Friday.
Douglas is expected to be ready for spring practice, UT head athletic trainer Jason McVeigh said. It is unclear when Lathers would be able to return.
Extra Points: Georgia’s 97-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter was its third scoring drive of longer than 90 yards this season. … Robert Ayers’ interception of Matthew Stafford at the UT 13-yard line was the first time Georgia’s offense had been stopped inside an opponent’s 20-yard line. Their only other failure to score in the red zone came when the Bulldogs took a knee at the end of a victory over Arizona State.
Dave Hooker contributed to this report.