Vols due letdown?

Emotional wins like Tennessee's 30-27 overtime triumph at No. 4 LSU are exciting. They're also dangerous. An emotionally spent team is ripe for a letdown the following week.

Consider the aftermath of these emotional wins from the Vols' recent past:

1979: Tennessee pounds No. 13 Notre Dame 40-18, then loses the following week to unranked Ole Miss 44-20.

1982: Tennessee knocks off No. 2 Alabama 35-28, then falls the following week to unranked Georgia Tech 31-21.

1985: Tennessee shuts down Bo Jackson and stuns top-ranked Auburn 38-20, then barely beats unranked Wake Forest 31-29 the following week.

1990: Tennessee rips Steve Spurrier's ninth-ranked Florida Gators 45-3, then loses the following week to unranked Alabama 9-6.

2001: Tennessee, an 18-point underdog, stuns Spurrier's second-ranked Gators 34-32 in Gainesville, then loses the following week to LSU 31-20 in the SEC Championship Game.

Monday night's win at Baton Rouge was probably Tennessee's most emotional victory since the triumph at Gainesville in 2001. That raises the obvious question: What can UT's coaches do to make sure the 2005 Vols avoid a letdown this weekend against Ole Miss?

"I don't know if you can make sure," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I think you can lead them, and it's important they follow."

Tennessee's win at Gainesville in 2001 put the Vols in position to play in the Rose Bowl for the national title. Losing to LSU the following week, however, undermined the groundwork the win at Gainesville had laid. Clearly, a big win loses its luster unless the team builds on that success.

"You try to enjoy the victory," Fulmer noted, "but realize what it can mean is going to be determined by these games we still have in front of us, starting with Mississippi."

Based on what he has seen thus far, the Vol head coach believes his players have successfully shifted their focus from the huge win at Baton Rouge to this weekend's test against the Rebels.

"I believe they understand that completely; I really do," he said. "We're fortunate to have a good group of seniors and captains – mature people who have risen to the occasion with each challenge we've had."

Maturity is nice but the Vols will need more than that if they are to avoid a letdown against Ole Miss.

"Football's a game of emotion," Fulmer noted. "You play with great passion and emotion."

If you don't, a big win can lead to an even bigger letdown.


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