Can UT run table?

The emotion of a Tennessee football fan is a wonderful thing. Beat California in the season opener and some are thinking national championship. Lose to Florida and some are thinking coaching change. Score 51 at Georgia and a BCS bowl is a given.

Tennessee jumped to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll with the 51-33 victory over Georgia and many fans jumped on the bandwagon, as did some former players.

Bobby Scott and Pat Ryan both predicted Tennessee will run the table and finish the regular season at 11-1. That means beating Alabama and LSU at home and Arkansas and South Carolina on the road. It would also mean finishing in the top five in the nation.

Even if Florida doesn't slip up and the Vols fail to make the SEC Championship game, an 11-1 record would guarantee a BCS berth.

It's amazing what a big road win will do to the fans' psyche.

It's amazing what offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has done.

A year ago, a 24-7 deficit would have been insurmountable – especially against the nation's No. 1 scoring defense. This year, it's just a hill to be climbed.

When Tennessee cut Georgia's lead to 24-14 at halftime, I knew Georgia would have to score more because 24 points wouldn't be good enough. I didn't see 51 coming, but I could see at least 31.

Tennessee's score at the end of the first half and Antwan Stewart's interception to start the second half were the two biggest keys of the game. After Stewart's pick, the Vols cashed it, cutting the margin to 24-21.

Tennessee has been outplayed, but trailed by only three.

Cutcliffe was in a play-calling rhythm. Quarterback Erik Ainge was in a passing rhythm. And Tennessee's offense was never better – not even when some guy named Peyton Manning was at the controls.

This game might have topped The Miracle at South Bend. Just consider the last six possessions for each team. Tennessee had five touchdowns and a field goal. Georgia had four turnovers, a blocked punt and a field goal.

That's a 44-3 swing in Tennessee's favor – 44-9 if you throw in Georgia's kickoff return for a touchdown.

Tennessee's maligned offensive line had a stellar day against Georgia's standout defensive ends Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson. They entered the game with a reputation of being the SEC's best end tandem. They left sackless. Moses has now gone a career-long five games without a sack and has just one this season after recording 11.5 last year.

``The offensive line dang sure manned up,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.

The Vols did a nice job with the tight ends chipping the defensive ends to slow down their rush. Cutcliffe mixed in short passes with screens to keep the rush at bay.

Meanwhile, a defense that deserved a ``D'' in the first half, played ``A'' ball in the second half, with three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

During the course of the comeback, the Vols found two more weapons.

Receiver Bret Smith, who had 13 catches in five games, had seven for 94 yards against Georgia. Running back Arian Foster, limited since spraining his ankle against Air Force in the second game, had three touchdowns and ran for 50 second-half yards.

Smith became more valuable when Jayson Swain sprained his ankle.

``I had to step up and make plays,'' Smith said. ``I like being the go-to guy. I like making plays for Erik and the team.''

Foster was benched against Marshall and Memphis as UT tried to get him healthy for the Georgia game.

``It's great to have Foster back,'' Fulmer said. ``It was probably a wise thing for us not to play him the last two or three weeks. We waited and it paid off for us. He's healthy ... healthier. I don't think he's 100 percent, but he did a great job for us.''

After a week off, the Vols face Alabama on Oct. 21.

So, will the Vols run the table and finish 11-1?

Probably not. At some point, I think UT's lack of run defense and special teams miscues will cost them a game.

But 10-2 isn't bad, coming off 5-6.


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