UT means business in Outback this year
By: By Beth Rucker, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Last season Tennessee was just glad to be playing in the Outback Bowl. This year the Vols mean business.
“We were there last year. Nothing’s going to be a surprise to us, so we’ve got our minds focused on the game,” running back Arian Foster said Friday during the team’s media day events.
After missing a bowl bid during their miserable 2005 season, the Vols pledged to make it back to a bowl and win 10 games in 2006.
They earned a trip to the Outback Bowl, but fell one win shy of their goal after an unranked Penn State upset them 20-10.
The No. 16 Vols (9-4) will travel again to Tampa, Fla., on New Year’s Day, this time to face No. 18 Wisconsin (9-3). Tennessee held some brief practices last weekend, but their preparation started in earnest on Friday and continues daily through Thursday.
Wide receiver Josh Briscoe said he and his teammates had strong practices to prepare for last year’s game, but were distracted by many of the activities Outback officials had planned for them once they got to the “Sunshine State”.
The Vols’ schedule is mostly the same this year, with trips to Busch Gardens theme park and the beach in between practices, luncheons and press conferences.
“You’re having fun, you know at Busch Gardens, but we’ve got to be able to separate that from the game,” Briscoe said. “That’s one thing we didn’t do well last year.
“We’ve just got to take control of our team and not let the opportunities throughout the week keep us from doing what we need to do in the game.”
Tennessee has struggled to win bowl games in recent campaigns.
The Vols have gone 2-5 since they won the 1999 Fiesta Bowl game over Florida State and Bobby Bowden to take the national championship.
Phillip Fulmer holds a 7-7 bowl game record as Tennessee coach.
“We are intending to win every game that we play,” Fulmer said. “When you finish up the season not as good as you’d like, that’s one of those things that lingers with you, and you try to turn it and use it as a motivation, which I think our guys did last year and (that) was part of the equation that led us to be Eastern Division champions this year.”
Tennessee tied Georgia for the Southeastern Conference East Division crown, but earned the bid to the SEC title game having beaten Georgia in the regular season.
The Vols lost 21-14 to LSU in the championship game.
But Tennessee has fared well coming off SEC championship game losses.
The Vols lost in the 2001 and 2004 title games, but rebounded with a win over Michigan in the 2002 Citrus Bowl and another over Texas A&M in the 2005 Cotton Bowl.
UT did not play in a bowl game in 2006.
One key for Tennessee is the play of the UT running backs, Foster and Montario Hardesty, as well as the passing game of Erik Ainge.
Foster has tallied over 1,000 yards this season with Hardesty providing a good amount of relief to rest his teammate’s legs.
However, Foster did have a key fumble in last year’s loss to Penn State and he has vowed to avenge that flub.
In the pocket, Ainge may have all day literally as the Volunteers’ offensive line has allowed a national-low four sacks this year.
When untouched and unpressured, Ainge has a knack for finding open receivers, even if it means throwing to his third or fourth option on a play.
Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who recently accepted the head job at Duke, but will coach in the bowl game, said he doesn’t expect any difference this time around for Tennesse.
“We’re anxious to redeem ourselves from the championship game. I think that’s going to generate some energy,” he said.
There’s also that goal of winning 10 games that hangs in the lockers and minds of the current Volunteers..
“Ten wins is a great number to have,” Briscoe said. “(A record of) 9-5 is a big difference from 10-4.”