An edge for Cutcliffe?

Nobody knows Phil Fulmer better than David Cutcliffe. Nobody knows David Cutcliffe better than Phil Fulmer.

Thus, the element of surprise may be missing Saturday night in Oxford, when Fulmer's Tennessee Vols face Cutcliffe's Ole Miss Rebels.

Cutcliffe was Fulmer's offensive coordinator from 1993-1998, so he knows the Vol attack schemes almost as well as UT's head man does. Cutcliffe has installed the same basic offense at Ole Miss, so there's little about the Rebel attack that Fulmer doesn't already know.

The question is: Which coach will do the best job of exploiting his familiarity with the other's system and tendencies?

Fulmer wouldn't touch that question with a 10-foot pole. In fact, he dismissed the suggestion that either coach might be able to anticipate what the other will do.

''It's been five years since David's been here,'' the Vol boss said. ''They've changed, we've changed.''

Both offenses may have been tweaked a bit but neither has really changed. That's why Randy Sanders, who succeeded Cutcliffe as Tennessee's offensive coordinator, figures the Ole Miss coach has a good idea what the Vols will be trying to do Saturday night.

''It's an advantage for them (Rebels) because he obviously knows the offense pretty well,'' Sanders said. ''It's changed quite a bit but he knows it pretty well.''

Likewise, Tennessee's knowledge of Cutcliffe's tendencies should help the Vol defense anticipate what the Rebels will try to do Saturday night.

''I think it's also a pretty good advantage for our defense because we know THEIR offense pretty well,'' Sanders said. ''I can look at their (Rebels') tapes and call pretty much every play ... just as I'm sure they can look at our tapes and call pretty much every play.

''But that doesn't help you before the snap. It still gets down to the players making plays. Whoever runs the best, tackles the best, blocks the best and takes care of the football best usually wins.''

Fulmer echoed those thoughts, adding that ''Everybody plays to their personnel.'' Cutcliffe's personnel at Ole Miss obviously is different than the personnel he had at UT, just as Fulmer's personnel is different than it was when Cutcliffe was a Vol aide. Still, each man knows HOW the other tends to play to the strengths of his personnel, and knowledge IS power. Thus, the coach who utilizes his knowledge the most powerfully Saturday night in Oxford probably will prevail.

In addition to their coaching relationship, Cutcliffe and Fulmer have a friendship that dates to Cutcliffe's days as head football coach at Banks High of Birmingham, Ala. They remain close to this day.

''We talk a lot,'' Fulmer said. ''But we don't talk a lot of Xs and Os.''

Especially this week.


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