No sweat

With 4:50 left in the first half of Saturday night's game at Athens, Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer had a 24-7 deficit to overcome. But he also had John Chavis and David Cutcliffe to help overcome it.

Chavis' defense forced four second-half turnovers and blocked a punt for a touchdown. Cutcliffe's offense produced five touchdowns and a field goal on its last six possessions. Fulmer's frown turned into a smile and the 24-7 deficit turned into a 51-33 victory.

Coming back from 17 points down on the road is never easy but having his trusted coordinators to share the challenge helped Fulmer considerably Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.

"It's wonderful to have those guys," the head man said. "They do a really good job."

Chavis and Cutcliffe have been around the block a few times, so they stay calm when all hell seems to be breaking loose. That helps Phillip Fulmer stay calm, as well.

"We all go through different emotions all the time," the head man noted. "Sometimes I'm the one calming them down. Sometimes they're the ones calming me down. It's a good working relationship."

Chavis has been Fulmer's defensive coordinator for 12 years, 1995 to the present. Cutcliffe is on his second tour of duty as Fulmer's offensive coordinator – 1993-1998 and 2006 – so he has seven years' tenure with the boss.

"The time we spent together is really neat for us," Fulmer said.

Certainly, the experience of UT's coaching staff helped Saturday night in Athens. So did the experience of Tennessee's veteran players. They kept the younger guys from panicking when the first-half deficit swelled to 17 points.

"An older, veteran team might handle those things better," Fulmer said. "We've got enough older guys leading our team in the right direction. You could hear them on the sideline, saying: 'Stay in it, stay in it. We can get 'em.'"

The head man surmised that "the big difference in game was takeaways by our defense in the second half." Still, he noted that the offense contributed significantly, as well.

"It took everybody to get it done," he said. "After watching the tape I'm even happier about the way our guys battled back to get the win."

The Vols showed no ability to "battle back" in 2005. The defense struggled to force turnovers and the offense struggled to score points. That's why the team limped home 5-6. The 2006 Vols seem much more resilient, at least based on Saturday night's frantic rally.

"The mental and physical toughness, the character and leadership of the team showed through," Fulmer noted. "We've been battling, really, since January – from the attitude standpoint, the leadership standpoint, finding out who's committed. It says a lot."

In addition to a new resilience, Tennessee has shown a new killer instinct in recent weeks. After letting California, Air Force and Florida mount fourth-quarter comebacks in Games 1, 2 and 3, the Vols have closed like champions in Games 4, 5 and 6.

"We've finished the last couple of ballgames pretty good," Fulmer conceded.

The Vol coach said his team's big finish against Georgia "was probably a response to not knowing how many points you're going to need," adding that he thought "we might need more than 50."


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