What do Vols play for now?

Give Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer credit: He's working really hard this week to create a positive atmosphere, noting that "We're five points from being undefeated" and "We're looking to put an exclamation point on this season."

The positive spin is a hard sell, though. The SEC championship is no longer possible. The Eastern Division title is out of reach. A BCS bowl bid is a pipe dream.

So, coming off a heart-breaking loss to LSU, can the No. 13 Vols (7-2 overall, 3-2 SEC) bounce back this weekend against No. 11 Arkansas (8-1, 5-0) in Fayetteville?


"Everybody's disappointed about the final result of the LSU game," Fulmer concedes, "but it's one of those things we have to get over and we have to get over it quickly."

If the Vols don't get over it quickly they could get drilled by a Razorback team that has won eight games in a row and is almost unbeatable on its home field.

"We addressed that," Fulmer says, "but there's so much the coaches can do, then the players have to take responsibility, too."

The Vols say they've put the LSU loss behind them and are excited about facing Arkansas. But what else can they say, really?

"They always say the right things because they want to please," Fulmer concedes, "but the only way to really know that (they're focused) is on the practice field. You see their tempo, their energy, their intensity and attentiveness to what you're saying."

The LSU hangover will be difficult to shake because of the way the Vols lost. They had victory in their grasp until the Tigers scored with nine seconds left to win 28-24.

"They understand how disappointing that last drive was, particularly in that hard-fought a football game," Fulmer says. "But you've still got a lot to look forward to – a chance to win 10 or 11 games, a chance to go to a nice bowl."

Most of all Tennessee's three remaining games offer a chance to restore pride in a program that humiliated itself with a disastrous 5-6 record last year.

"The biggest thing is that you've done what you've done to this point with pride and determination and work ethic and commitment, so why would anything change?" Fulmer says. "The biggest thing is pride."

The head man notes that he has given several impassioned pep talks to the players this week in hopes of rekindling their inner fire.

"I would expect that they'll respond," he says.

This belief is based in part on historical precedent. Fulmer says his teams almost never lose two games in a row. Actually, Fulmer's troops lost consecutive games four times prior to last year. They dropped back-to-back games in 1994 (31-0 to Florida, 24-21 at Mississippi State), in 2000 (38-31 at LSU, 21-10 at Georgia), in 2002 (18-13 at Georgia, 34-14 to Alabama) and in 2003 (28-21 at Auburn, 41-14 to Georgia).

Making the task of bouncing back a little tougher this week is the fact three Vols were arrested last weekend and face disorderly conduct charges. Two of them won't play vs. Arkansas and the other will sit out the first half. That sort of distraction is the last thing Tennessee needs heading to Fayetteville.

"Yeah," Fulmer concedes. "That didn't do anybody any good."

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