Fulmer calls USC ''very big challenge''

Seconds after pronouncing Tennessee ''a pretty good football team,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said the Vols still face a ''very big challenge'' this Saturday against visiting South Carolina.

Although the Vols carry a 10-game winning streak in the series, Fulmer noted during his weekly news conference that the games have been ''a real battle the last three or four years.''

After winning 30-7 in 1999, the Vols have squeaked by the past three seasons -- prevailing 17-14 in 2000, 17-10 in 2001 and 18-10 last year.

Although the Gamecocks have struggled throwing the ball this fall, completing less than 50 percent of their passes for a mere 165 yards per game, Fulmer noted that Carolina has ''two or three receivers that are track guys and extremely fast.''

The Vol skipper pointed out that Carolina ranks No. 1 among SEC teams in pass defense and No. 2 in total defense now that Holtz has switched from a 3-5-3 alignment to a 4-3.

''They use an attacking, zone-blitz type of scheme,'' Fulmer said, adding that the Gamecocks are ''a lot more aggressive'' and play ''a lot more man coverage.''

Still on the topic of statistics, Fulmer noted that he is unhappy with Tennessee's turnover margin. The Vols have lost two fumbles and four interceptions through three games, while forcing just one fumble and three interceptions.

''One of our goals it to improve the turnover ratio,'' he said. ''We got the takeaways at Florida but we also gave them some.''

Asked what happened in Carolina's 31-7 loss to Georgia, Fulmer replied: ''Georgia made some big plays and South Carolina had a touchdown called back early, which was a big momentum change.''

Fulmer said UT's keys this weekend will be much the same as they are every weekend.

''Not give up the big play, stop the run, run the ball, find a way to make some plays and win the kicking game,'' he said. ''That's our formula.''

When asked about the four-game stretch which sees the Vols play Florida, Carolina, Auburn and Georgia on consecutive weekends, Fulmer declined to answer. ''I don't want to discuss that,'' he said. ''We've got a full plate (with South Carolina) right now.''

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