UT can't give up now

It's not time to pack it in now.

Not when 1988 was the last time Tennessee failed to advance to a bowl game.

Not when the Vols have produced seven 10-win seasons over the last decade.

"This is really tough, since we've worked since January towards the ultimate goal of winning a conference championship," senior center Richie Gandy said. "Theres so much history in this program.

"We don't want to be the team that lets everybody down."

The 17th-ranked Volunteers aren't off to the most productive start. After just five games, Tennessee has already knocked itself out of the SEC Eastern Division race with losses to rivals Florida and Georgia.

The schedule doesn't get much easier. Trips to No. 6 Alabama and ninth-ranked Notre Dame still await the once-hyped Vols, and upset potential lies in nemesis Steve Spurrier's South Carolina squad.

But at least Tennessee gets a week first to worry about itself.

"It's nice anytime to have a week off, whether you won or lost the week before," said junior captain Rob Smith. "Over the course of a season, you don't get much time to work on fundamentals.

"We're getting a chance to get back to the basics of football."

Tennessee needs a chance to get back to the basics of offense. The Vols (3-2, 2-2 SEC) are 100th nationally in rushing offense with just 98 yards per game, and they are 86th in total offense. This, despite nine starters who came out of prep ball with All-American honors.

"We have a lot of pride as a unit," Gandy said of the offensive line. "We don't want anybody to think we can't run the ball.

"We want that responsibility on our shoulders, and we're going to do it."

The problem was supposed to be over last week. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders' best five guys up front were finally healthy after he was forced to employ a makeshift squad for the first month of the season.

The result? Just 48 rushing yards on 26 attempts, including two sacks of quarterback Rick Clausen. But Smith insists the Vols won't simply listen to their critics and give up.

"We've got a lot of hard workers and lot of good guys on this team," said Smith, who has played both guard and center this season. "The biggest thing for us is that it's a pride thing.

"When you've put in this much time, you don't want to just throw in the season."

But first the Vols get a well-deserved break after playing three games in 13 days. Preparations for the unbeaten Crimson Tide begin Monday.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure we finish this thing out 9-2," said Gandy.


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