'J-Load' could test Vols

Coming off a 59-21 blowout of Mississippi State and a 48-0 humiliation of Vanderbilt the past two weeks, Tennessee's football team might be inclined to look past Saturday's regular-season finale against Kentucky except for two things:

1) The game's in Lexington, where the Big Blue historically plays Tennessee tough.
2) Jared Lorenzen, Kentucky's 300-pound quarterback, can win a game all by himself when he's hot.

The Vols can't do anything to change the game's site, so they'll have to focus on keeping Lorenzen from finding his rhythm. They did a lousy job of this on their last trip to Lexington in 2001, when the guy known as ''J-Load'' torched them for 34 completions in 53 attempts for 406 yards and four touchdowns. Conversely, the Vols did a magnificent job last November in Knoxville, hounding Lorenzen into his worst performance ever (9 of 23 for 59 yards, 0 TDs).

What was the difference?

''He had a lot of good players around him (in 2001) and they got hot,'' Vol head man Phillip Fulmer said during his Sunday teleconference. ''Last year, we were able to get to him some, and that helped. We also did a little better job stopping the run than we did a couple of years ago, which allowed the other part of it (pass defense) to be successful.''

Although Tennessee shut down the Hefty Lefty last season, Fulmer concedes that Lorenzen remains a 300-pound concern.

''He's got a great arm and he's hard to tackle ... one of best guys we've been around to get out of trouble,'' the Vol coach said. ''He's done a great job for them in the past. He's a hard guy to defend. We know he's a good player.''

Asked what else he recalled about UT's last trip to Lexington, Fulmer replied: ''It was terrible. They did a really good job of stopping the run, and we had a hard time slowing 'em down in the first half.''

Indeed. Tennessee's defense entered the 2001 game surrendering just 275 total yards per game but allowed Kentucky to pile up 279 in the FIRST HALF. The Vols trailed by 21 points in the second quarter before rallying to win 38-35.

''It was a really good comeback by our team,'' Fulmer recalled. ''Hopefully, we'll be prepared and focused when we go up there this weekend.''

Tennessee's defense should do a much better job against UK than it did in 2001. The 2003 stop unit has allowed just three touchdowns in the past four games (Duke, Miami, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt), and two of those were meaningless TDs allowed by scrubs in the final minutes of the MSU blowout.

''Starting with the overtime at Alabama, our defense has made leaps and bounds of improvement,'' Fulmer said. ''We're not making mistakes that allow people easy yards or easy points. We were doing some good things early in the season but we were making those mistakes that allowed people to make chunks of yards and keep the ball. We're not making those mistakes now.''

Tennessee's offense has made considerable progress, as well. The passing game was vastly improved the past two weeks.

''It certainly was,'' Fulmer conceded. ''We did some good things early but the middle part of the season we just weren't hitting on all cylinders. It might have been a route, a protection or a throw but we just didn't come together. We had a heck of a game throwing the ball down at Auburn, though, so you knew the potential was there.

''The last two weeks, it's been fun to watch those guys work. We had a good plan by Coach (Randy) Sanders, well-executed protection and good routes. It all goes together.''

Tennessee's receivers -- perhaps the most erratic segment of the team -- have played well the past two weeks, contributing a lot to the offensive explosion.

''They made some plays,'' Fulmer said. ''It was really good to see Tony Brown make two tough catches. The play at the begining of the game (a 35-yard strike from Casey Clausen to Brown) was real well-designed, as well as well-executed.

''C.J. Fayton made a real acrobatic play along the sideline. James Banks caught one over the middle for a big first down. Mark Jones kept that first drive alive and caught another one to set up a score. It was a good day for our receivers.''

Still, Banks continues to be the team's foremost enigma. When he's on, he's one of the top receivers in the SEC. Sometimes, though, he makes mistakes that hurt the team more than he helps it. After catching 7 balls for 103 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama in Game 7, he caught just two balls each in Games 8, 9 and 10, then one ball in Game 11 vs. Vandy.

''His numbers have dropped off,'' Fulmer said. ''He's splitting time; he's not in there all the time because other guys (Fayton, Jayson Swain, Chris Hannon) have made progress. Occasionally, he'll run a route that's not what you need and get himself in no-man's land. To be a complete receiver, he's got a lot of work to do.''

Thanks to the improved play on offense and defense in recent weeks, the Vols scarcely resemble the team that lost 41-14 on their home field to Georgia on Oct. 11. What has happened since then to elevate Tennessee's play?

''I think we had a good team at the beginning of year, then had a couple of games where we didn't play our best,'' Fulmer said. ''But this team has a lot of character, a lot of leadership and some veterans who have been though most everyting that can come at you.

''When things go wrong, there are two ways you can go -- up or down -- and this team has been able to fight back. Those have been the keys -- the fight, the character and the leadership of the team and the staff. Those are things that usually make quite a difference.''

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