UT seeks redemption

If Tennessee dumps Penn State in the Outback Bowl, it may have the Kentucky Wildcats to thank. Vol coaches and players seem desperate for redemption after their sloppy play vs. UK in the regular-season finale.

Coming off a 39-10 blowout of Vanderbilt in Game 11, the Big Orange was supposed to dominate the Big Blue, whose defense ranked dead last in all of Div. 1-A. Instead, Tennessee sputtered and wheezed to a lackluster 17-12 triumph.

"We played really good at Vanderbilt," head coach Phillip Fulmer noted following Saturday's practice. "Vanderbilt played Florida to six points, played Arkansas to a field goal at the end and played Alabama to right at the end. They were a dangerous football team, and we took them out of their game, defensively and offensively.

"Kentucky's a little better team maybe, but we just screwed around. We didn't tackle play well, didn't block well, didn't throw and catch it well, didn't run the ball well. We did nothing well except punt, and we only had two of those."

The lack of focus and effort against the Big Blue clearly has Fulmer fired up as he gets his players ready for bowl action.

"We've got to do better than that," he said. "It's attitude, straight-up attitude. They beat Vanderbilt and thought Kentucky wouldn't be any better. Then we got embarrassed."

After watching film of the UK game, Fulmer noted that "it looked about as bad as we've played all year. I was real disappointed in that. Kentucky did some good things, but I was eager to get back to the practice field and get their attention about what we've got to do to be the kind of team that started the season.

"We had some difficulties with injuries and stuff, but we're a better football team than we showed in the last ballgame. I'm challenging them to show that in preparation for Penn State."

Vol quarterback Erik Ainge was supposed to have a field day against a porous Wildcat secondary but he didn't. He didn't look sharp, his line didn't protect particularly well and his receivers didn't perform up to their normal level.

"Erik had played very consistent (prior to missing Games 9 and 10 with an ankle sprain)," Fulmer noted, "then he came back against Vanderbilt and played extremely well ... better than I thought he would. But this last ball game he didn't play well. In fact, he played poorly. So did everybody else."

Ainge concedes as much, noting: "I didn't think we played very good in the Kentucky game – the whole football team, myself included. We've kind of had that bad taste in our mouth the last week. But now it's all about Penn State, and we're looking forward to going to Florida."

Star receiver Robert Meachem wasn't surprised the Vols had a poor game against the Big Blue. He says they had poor practices leading up to the game.

"We had a bad practice on Tuesday," he recalled. "Then on Thursday, Thanksgiving day, we had a bad practice. Coach Cut (David Cutcliffe) says when you have a bad practice it sometimes shows up on the (game) field, and that's what it did."

Meachem conceded that he and the other receivers underachieved vs. the Wildcats. The rest of the passing game stalled, as well.

"We weren't moving the way we normally move," he said. "We weren't getting open. And the timing for Erik just wasn't there. We had a lot of things going wrong."

As a result, Tennessee's offensive players are highly motivated coming off their putrid showing against the Wildcats.

"We always expect to win by a lot of points. That's just Tennessee history," Meachem said. "It hurts when you don't reach your goal."

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