Has Fulmer Lost This Team

Has Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer lost his program?

No.

Has Fulmer lost this team?

We'll find out.

Fulmer hasn't lost the program. Yes, it's been seven years since Tennessee won an SEC Championship, but the Vols have played for two in the past four years (2001 and 2004). And they tied for first in the East Division in 2003.

This has been a horrible season for Fulmer and the Vols. But that doesn't equate to losing the program.

Whether Fulmer has lost this team will be determined over the next three weeks, starting with Saturday's homecoming game against a 4-4 Memphis team.

If Tennessee loses any of its three remaining games, that means the Vols will have a losing season. That means some of the players might have quit. If players quit, you've lost your team.

But I've seen no evidence of UT quitting. I didn't see it against Notre Dame, not when the team fought back from a 21-3 deficit to tie the score heading into the fourth quarter. Don't equate mistakes to indifference. Don't count an interception or a missed tackle as not caring.

But if you lose to Memphis, a 19-point underdog, then you've got a huge problem. Memphis isn't very good, folks. The Tigers have a brilliant running back in DeAngelo Williams, the nation's leading rusher. But they can't stop the run or the pass. Corey White of Alabama-Birmingham rushed for 200 yards against a depleted front four. And Memphis is allowing 286.8 passing yards per game.

Tennessee should be able to run and pass against Memphis. Of course, it's been a while since we've seen the Vols mount a good run-pass balance in the same game.

In fact, you've got to go back to Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M to find the last time the Vols ran and passed for at least 200 yards in a game. In 1992, the Vols AVERAGED over 200 yards rushing and passing for the season.

Tennessee is also awaiting those big plays. Last season, the Vols had 28 plays of at least 30 yards. This season, the Vols have five, four via the pass.

The Vols could have five 30-yard plays against Memphis. Tigers defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn likes to gamble. He'll hit some and miss some. On the misses, the Vols should garner some huge gains.

A win would keep Tennessee in the hunt for a 17th consecutive bowl game. Only Michigan (30) and Florida State (23) have longer bowl streaks.

If the Vols go 6-5, they'll play in the Music City Bowl in Nashville or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Each is Dec. 30.

Is a bowl game motivation? Absolutely, according to David Cutcliffe, former UT offensive coordinator.

``There's a major difference in a bowl team and a non-bowl team,'' Cutcliffe said, ``and I've been on both sides. There's plenty to fight for.''

Some Tennessee fans believe the Vols should sign more in-state players. They claim in-state players care more about wearing the orange than someone from California or New Jersey or Texas or Florida - especially when things go badly.

That theory will be put to the test for the remainder of the season.

By the way, the Vols have only 12 in-state scholarship players available for the Memphis game.


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