‘Tide’ turn not likely for Vols
Posted: Monday, October 27, 2008 6:45 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — There’s little Tennessee can do to salvage this season.
With a 29-9 loss to Alabama, the Vols (3-5, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) have failed to beat their three top rivals and still have several tough SEC opponents left to face.
Their chances of becoming bowl eligible are diminishing, and coach Phillip Fulmer’s job security is more in danger than ever with the lack of a big-time win this season.
“We’re in a battle from top to bottom,” Fulmer said. “Right now, I’m more concerned about our football team and winning four games, getting ourselves bowl eligible and finishing up the season as good as we possibly can.”
Judging by Tennessee’s ineptitude on offense and special teams against Alabama (8-0, 5-0), that goal could be a stretch.
After a three-and-out Tennessee drive — one of seven in the game — Dennis Rogan recovered Javier Arenas’ fumbled punt return at the Alabama 5. But instead of capitalizing on it, the Vols went backward nine yards on the drive, and Daniel Lincoln kicked a 31-yard field goal to tie the game at 3 with 6:28 in the first quarter.
A missed 51-yard field goal attempt by Lincoln set Alabama up on the Tennessee 34 for its final first-half drive, and Glen Coffee punched the ball into the end zone on a three-yard run to give the Crimson Tide a 13-3 lead with 2:41 before halftime.
Tennessee drove to the Alabama 14, but back-to-back penalties for illegal formation and pass interference pushed the Vols back 20 yards, and Lincoln missed a 43-yard field goal attempt to close the half.
“That doesn’t go on Daniel’s back at all. We’re a team. Those plays that we had at the end of the first half were on ourselves, so it definitely wasn’t on Daniel,” tailback Montario Hardesty said.
The Vols’ defense gave Tennessee plenty of chances to stay in the game in the first half, limiting Alabama to its lowest first-quarter score of the season with six points and forcing the Tide to kick field goals on three trips near the red zone.
The longer Tennessee’s defense was on the field, the more it struggled, though.
Alabama outgained Tennessee 366-173.
“We’re obviously very disappointed in the second half of our play,” Fulmer said. Our team did prepare well during the course of the week and in the first half, (we) more than held our own.”
For much of his career, Fulmer has held his own against Alabama and Georgia even while struggling against Florida. These days, the longest tenured SEC coach is struggling with all three.
Through the Vols’ 1998 championship season, Tennessee held a 13-6-1 record against the three rivals under Fulmer. Since then, Tennessee has a 13-17 record in those games.
Alabama had never won back-to-back games against a Fulmer, who held a seven-game winning streak against the Tide at one point.
Alabama outscored Tennessee 70-26 in its current two-game streak, and coach Nick Saban holds a 4-1 record against the Vols dating back to his time at LSU.
If the Vols fail to become bowl eligible, it will be only the second time they miss out on postseason play in two decades and the second losing season under Fulmer.
As Tennessee’s nosedive continues, the Crimson Tide remains in the hunt for the national championship and has a nine-game winning streak going dating back to last season.
After his team struggled with finishing games, Saban thinks his squad might be peaking, just in time to face SEC West foe LSU in two weeks.
“This is the best we’ve played in my opinion since the (season opener) Clemson game,” he said. “We played a complete game.”