Strange: Plenty of spark in lopsided series

Mike Strange

Game preview: Tennessee vs. Memphis

Let's say Saturday night is a good night for football, that Tennessee fans are stoked by the win over South Carolina, and a crowd of 100,000 shows up at Neyland Stadium.

If so, the Memphis Tigers will be playing in front of 96,000 more than turned out for their home game last week.

These are rough times for the University of Memphis - and not just because John Calipari bolted for Kentucky and left behind the "Vacated" sign.

Memphis football is struggling, on the field (2-6) and at the turnstiles (4,117 on a rainy Tuesday night for East Carolina).

Coach Tommy West, a former Vol player and assistant coach, is feeling the heat despite getting the Tigers to bowl games five of the past six seasons.

"I do think we're a better team than what we're playing now,'' West said this week.

"In the past we've always been able to pull it out when we struggled. I haven't been able to hit the right buttons to get this team going.''

I don't expect Tennessee fans to muster much sympathy. Many wouldn't care if the Vols never played the Tigers again, be it football, hoops or lawn darts.

UT's coaches, however, feel differently. Bruce Pearl is adamant about flying the orange flag in the state's richest recruiting base. Lane Kiffin jetted out of his introductory press conference 11 months ago to visit Memphis prospect Marlon Brown.

"I'd love to play them every year, sign a long contract,'' Kiffin said Tuesday. "Memphis is obviously very critical to us.''

The critical rivalry renews Saturday after a two-year absence. In 2006, the Vols dominated the Tigers 41-7 - a result atypical of the way the series has gone lately.

Five of the past eight meetings were anybody's game.

The Tigers' most recent appearance in Neyland Stadium was a 20-16 UT win in 2005. If star running back DeAngelo Williams had played (he was injured), the Tigers might have snatched their second win over Tennessee.

The ledger tilts UT's way, 20-1. In 1996, a 4-7 Memphis team stunned No. 6-ranked, Peyton Manning-led Tennessee, 21-17.

In 1999, No. 7 UT staged a last-gasp drive to pull out a 17-16 win in Knoxville.

In 2000, the Vols would land in the Cotton Bowl. Memphis would finish 4-7. But when they faced off, a field goal with 13 seconds to play saved UT's day, 19-17.

"It's an intense rivalry,'' senior lineman Cory Sullins said Tuesday. "We're going to take 'em seriously.

"We don't want to face the people in the state about us losing to Memphis.''

Nor do Kiffin and his recruiters.

The current UT roster has eight players from the Memphis area. Dan Williams and Chris Walker are defensive stars. Greg King and Marlon Walls might be one day.

"I think we've made some headway,'' Kiffin said. "We've pounded away in there. I think it helps, too, to see Memphis guys playing so well for us right now.''

By my rough count, 42 Memphis-area prospects play in the SEC. Every league school except Florida has one.

"Going back to my high school days,'' said UT's Williams, "I knew somebody was going to be there to watch me.

"SEC schools are where we end up going in the end. I think it's kind of a little SEC secret down there.''

Sometimes SEC players end up back at Memphis when things don't work out. The Tigers have transfers from five SEC schools, including Malcolm Rawls from UT.

Whether Memphis was their first option or their second, the Tigers get amped up to take on the big boys before the big crowds.

Tennessee is a 26-point favorite.

The Tigers' only real 2009 highlight is beating UTEP the week after UTEP upset Houston.

Could that somehow translate into any Tennessee hand-wringing Saturday night?

"If you've watched us play, you wouldn't think that,'' said West. "Because Tennessee is playing awfully well right now.''

Yeah, but we've heard that one before over the years.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

© 2009 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 23

sidwalkvol writes:

Unrelated. Sort of.

Pat Dooley's power rankings for this week have UT 7th, BELOW SC, GA and Auburn.

He also thinks the 1/2 suspension for Spikes is right, that the real punishment is to his reputation.

Oh, brother.

OldSmokey writes:

Could that somehow translate into any Tennessee hand-wringing Saturday night?
"If you've watched us play, you wouldn't think that,'' said West. "Because Tennessee is playing awfully well right now.''
Yeah, but we've heard that one before over the years.

WOW!!! Getting more like JA everyday.

Volunatic writes:

Thank you, Mr. Strange-- this needed to be said. I hope the Vol players read this column.
Vols-- don't overlook Memphis!

tngilmer writes:

I am a Memphis alumnus as well as a UT fan and I will say without any reservation that UT will slaughter Memphis.

lomas98 writes:

A lot of close wins with talented TN teams over the Memphis program. Squeaking those wins out is what kept Fulmer around as long as he was. He never really lost games he shouldn't lose, but man they should not be that hard. The 99 team almost getting beat at home was terrible. How in the world does the 96 team get beat? I forgot about the last second fg in 2000.

Bearwuzacheater writes:

in response to lomas98:

A lot of close wins with talented TN teams over the Memphis program. Squeaking those wins out is what kept Fulmer around as long as he was. He never really lost games he shouldn't lose, but man they should not be that hard. The 99 team almost getting beat at home was terrible. How in the world does the 96 team get beat? I forgot about the last second fg in 2000.

Give the officials and a lack of reply some credit for the '96 Memphis win. A kickoff return for a touchdown when the tiger high player was clearly down and the UT players let up, was the difference in that game. BTW it's the same crew that gave FU a touchdown catch late in a game for a win in Knoxville that was never in the receiver's control. SEC officials suck!

lomas98 writes:

in response to Bearwuzacheater:

Give the officials and a lack of reply some credit for the '96 Memphis win. A kickoff return for a touchdown when the tiger high player was clearly down and the UT players let up, was the difference in that game. BTW it's the same crew that gave FU a touchdown catch late in a game for a win in Knoxville that was never in the receiver's control. SEC officials suck!

Scoring 14 points with a roster full of NFL players should not happen against Memphis.

letshave1more writes:

Rumor has it when Tiger High scored against ECU they sounded a police siren. Seems someone forgot to tell the football team as most made a mad dash for the exit... Thats funny I dont care who you are....

atlvolsfan writes:

I think we'll blow em' out. We're getting more consistent all over the field, week after week. Sharpen your teeth on the Tigers Big Orange! GO VOLS!!!!!

eefor10c writes:

too much like little johnny adams' work

Volunatic writes:

in response to letshave1more:

Rumor has it when Tiger High scored against ECU they sounded a police siren. Seems someone forgot to tell the football team as most made a mad dash for the exit... Thats funny I dont care who you are....

Not funny to a Tiger High player, but yeah, funny to everyone else.

VolFanFtl writes:

in response to Bearwuzacheater:

Give the officials and a lack of reply some credit for the '96 Memphis win. A kickoff return for a touchdown when the tiger high player was clearly down and the UT players let up, was the difference in that game. BTW it's the same crew that gave FU a touchdown catch late in a game for a win in Knoxville that was never in the receiver's control. SEC officials suck!

I have to disagree with you. As the #6 team in the country, we should have never been in a position where one bad call caused us to loose to Memphis. I was at that game, it was an unacceptable loss.

diamond_dave35#235769 writes:

in response to VolFanFtl:

I have to disagree with you. As the #6 team in the country, we should have never been in a position where one bad call caused us to loose to Memphis. I was at that game, it was an unacceptable loss.

Yes I remember that game well..We werent ready one bit,,I was living in Arkansas at the time and all of my co-workers were having some fun with me all week..didnt last long though UT beats the Hogs 55-14 the next week..always fun to get a last laugh

Colliervol writes:

Regarding the game in '96, remember the old adage: "Even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then." The kickoff return (even though the Memphis guy was down) was a judgement call and I can get past that. The main issue was how Fulmer got so hard headed that he thought he could try to run the ball down Memphis' throat that whole game when, oh by the way, you have Peyton Manning at QB.

A lot of the UT-Memphis games were close because Memphis generally has had good defenses and Phil was usually very conservative against them. Two problems for Memphis this year. Their defense has been shredded (especially on the ground) by everybody and Kiffen shows no signs of being conservative when he gets somebody down. I expect Hardesty to go for 200 yards and Brown to add about 150. Crompton may not have to throw over 10 passes unless they just want to work on some things.

I like the comment by the guy in the Chattanooga paper this morning. In reviewing the game, he said "this one ranks in the top 200 or 300 intrastate rivalries". Count me among the UT fans who don't care if we play it or not. Wait, let me amend that. Actually, I see no reason to play them in anything (including that old coaching excuse about recruiting in Memphis). We gain nothing from it.

Southland writes:

I choose not to disrespect Memphis or any school except the always over rated Notre Dame. I can cheer for any team in the state of Tennessee exept for Vandy and I have been known to cheer for them against some teamsn.What is is the point of disrepcting teams anyway. It doesnt make us any better by putting them down. Beat them and that is enough. I do not care who the opponent is, a win at this point in our season and in the attempt to turn around a program that was in a nose dive is a good thing. I dont care if it is against a Middle school program.

Chazbro2 writes:

in response to letshave1more:

Rumor has it when Tiger High scored against ECU they sounded a police siren. Seems someone forgot to tell the football team as most made a mad dash for the exit... Thats funny I dont care who you are....

Yeah,

Sounds like you never graduated from HS with your level of humor.

Chazbro2 writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Regarding the game in '96, remember the old adage: "Even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then." The kickoff return (even though the Memphis guy was down) was a judgement call and I can get past that. The main issue was how Fulmer got so hard headed that he thought he could try to run the ball down Memphis' throat that whole game when, oh by the way, you have Peyton Manning at QB.

A lot of the UT-Memphis games were close because Memphis generally has had good defenses and Phil was usually very conservative against them. Two problems for Memphis this year. Their defense has been shredded (especially on the ground) by everybody and Kiffen shows no signs of being conservative when he gets somebody down. I expect Hardesty to go for 200 yards and Brown to add about 150. Crompton may not have to throw over 10 passes unless they just want to work on some things.

I like the comment by the guy in the Chattanooga paper this morning. In reviewing the game, he said "this one ranks in the top 200 or 300 intrastate rivalries". Count me among the UT fans who don't care if we play it or not. Wait, let me amend that. Actually, I see no reason to play them in anything (including that old coaching excuse about recruiting in Memphis). We gain nothing from it.

Do they only let Vol fanatics make HS level jokes here. Typical Vol humor. You probably never played football but pretend to know all about it.

Armchair orange athletes living the the past.

Chazbro2 writes:

in response to Bearwuzacheater:

Give the officials and a lack of reply some credit for the '96 Memphis win. A kickoff return for a touchdown when the tiger high player was clearly down and the UT players let up, was the difference in that game. BTW it's the same crew that gave FU a touchdown catch late in a game for a win in Knoxville that was never in the receiver's control. SEC officials suck!

You vols live in the past to remember details like that. Memphis will beat you this time buddy.

Chazbro2 writes:

in response to tngilmer:

I am a Memphis alumnus as well as a UT fan and I will say without any reservation that UT will slaughter Memphis.

I think its kind of pitiful the immaturity of the UT football players whining publicly about the joke Coach West said at a banquet back in August. They need a course at UT called GROW UP for all incoming football players.

Memphis is going to kick some Orange butt !!

Chazbro2 writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Not funny to a Tiger High player, but yeah, funny to everyone else.

THIS is funny:

I think its kind of pitiful the immaturity of the UT football players whining publicly about the joke Coach West said at a banquet back in August. They need a course at UT called GROW UP for all incoming football players.

Memphis is going to kick some Orange butt !!

Chazbro2 writes:

Since you all like good jokes:

Q: Why do the Tennessee Vol fans wear orange and white?

A: They can wear it to the game on Saturday…They can wear it

hunting on Sunday…and they can wear it to work on Monday

when they’re picking up garbage on the highway !

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Chazbro2:

THIS is funny:

I think its kind of pitiful the immaturity of the UT football players whining publicly about the joke Coach West said at a banquet back in August. They need a course at UT called GROW UP for all incoming football players.

Memphis is going to kick some Orange butt !!

A Memphis guy talking football smack on a UT board! I've seen it all now. Good luck with that!

stevefrommemphis writes:

Now that the West Tennessee politicans (Naifeh, Wilder) are out of power, it's time to end this meaningless series. It serves no purpose for Tennessee and never has. At least when Tennessee used to play Chattanooga, they did it the week before the Alabama game and told Chattanooga to run the Alabama offense, or the series would be canceled.

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