Home-field advantage?

From 1995 through 1999, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer's record at Neyland Stadium was an incredible 31-1. The home record for his first nine years (1993-2001) was a remarkable 54-5. Since then, however, he is an unimposing 20-9 on his home turf.

Of Fulmer's 14 home-field losses, four have come at the hands of the Florida Gators. They're hoping to register No. 5 when they visit Neyland Stadium this Saturday night at 8. Tennessee, conversely, is hoping re-establish the "Not in our house" rule.

"That's something we've definitely talked about that," Fulmer said this week. "We had a good winning streak a while back and definitely would like to defend our turf. We've talked a lot about how important it is. We obviously have great support here, and we like for the home crowd to be pleased."

Tennessee's home crowd has gone home less than pleased following two of the last three Gator invasions. Jabar Gaffney's phantom catch gave Florida a controversial 27-23 victory in 2000. The Gators romped 30-13 in 2002 but James Wilhoit's 50-yard field goal in the final seconds allowed the Vols to eke out a 30-28 thriller in 2004.

The last two times Tennessee beat Florida in Knoxville, the Vols went on to win a national title (1998) and an SEC East title (2004). Clearly, this is a special game with plenty at stake.

"It's the first big SEC game for us and them," Fulmer noted. "It's an Eastern Division game, and the consequences are significant for both teams. A lot of times the winner of this game has the best chance to win the division."

Florida, as usual, has a bevy of homegrown standouts. It also has one of the SEC's top quarterbacks in Chris Leak.

"It's a very talented football team," Fulmer said. "Chris Leak does a great job getting the ball out and to the people he's trying to get it to. They have a lot of offensive weapons."

Asked if the Gators have as many weapons as anyone in the league, Fulmer conceded, "I think they probably do."

Florida utilizes those weapons in a spread-option attack whose only similarity to the Air Force flex-bone option Tennessee faced last weekend is the word "option." The two offenses are worlds apart in design and function.

"The flex-bone is considerably different than the spread option," Fulmer said, adding that the only common gound is that "We still have some responsibility, as far as somebody on the quarterback and somebody on the pitch man."

Tennessee could not handle the Air Force option, surrendering 281 rushing yards, 22 first downs and 30 points. Fulmer is hoping his stop unit will do a better job defending the Gators.

"Hopefully," he said, "we'll be able to slow ‘em down."

Looking back on the defensive meltdown against Air Force, Fulmer says Vol defenders simply didn't handle their assignments very well against the feisty Falcons.

"Defensively, I'm disappointed they were able to run the ball like they did," the head man noted. "The flex-bone is difficult but we just did not defend it as well as we thought we might. The linebackers and safeties got out of position some and got blocked some. The discipline of doing our responsibilities better is important to us."

Whereas Florida's option is based on spreading the defense and finding seams, the Air Force option is based on deception. It worked. The Falcons deceived Tennessee all night long.

"They were very efficient as to what they did," Fulmer noted. "Honestly, our linebackers just missed some reads and took some dive fakes when we were supposed to have the quarterback and the quarterback when we were supposed to have some dives. The secondary support wasn't always what it could've been. And we let the fullback out a few times."

That just about covers everything, doesn't it?

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