Fulmer vs. Paterno: the rematch

Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer has some fond memories of his previous coaching encounter with Penn State's Joe Paterno. Of course, the fond memories ended when the first quarter did. Everything thereafter was a disaster.

The meeting occurred at the end of Fulmer's first full season as head coach, when his sixth-ranked Vols and Paterno's 13th-ranked Nittany Lions squared off in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 1994. The afternoon started on a promising note for Tennessee – a 40-yard John Becksvoort field goal and a 19-yard Heath Shuler-to-Cory Fleming touchdown pass providing a quick 10-0 lead

Penn State outscored the Vols 31-3 thereafter, however, to win going away, 31-13. That negative momentum carried over, too, as Tennessee opened the 1994 season by losing three of its first four games.

"It was two different halves, and they spanked us pretty good in that (second) half," Fulmer recalled of the '94 Citrus Bowl. "There were a lot of big plays in that game."

Fulmer admitted after the loss that his Vols spent too much time enjoying the pre-bowl festivities and too little time actually preparing to play. He has never forgotten that experience, which is why he'll monitor his team's activities much more closely in December of 2006 than he did in December of 1993.

"We'll report (to Tampa) Christmas night, and have a team meeting that night," Fulmer noted. "The players will travel on Christmas day, and we'll start on-site preparation on the 26th."

Penn State has posted five unbeaten seasons and won two national titles during Paterno's 41-year career. The Nittany Lions suffered losing seasons in 2003 and 2004 but bounced back to go 11-1 in 2005 and 8-4 so far this season.

"It means a lot to be playing a team that has a tradition like Penn State does," Fulmer said. "It means a lot to be playing against a prestigious school like Penn State."

Tennessee, coming off a 9-3 regular season, is looking for a bowl win to close 2006 on an upswing and to provide some momentum for 2007. Fulmer says ending the season on a positive note is important.

"I think it does two things," he said. "It caps off a 10-win season, and there's a confidence carryover into recruiting and spring practice. There's lots of pluses to coming away with a bowl win."

Likewise, there are lots of minuses to coming away with a lopsided bowl loss, as the Vols' head man discovered the last time he faced Paterno, in the 1994 Citrus Bowl.

"Hopefully," Fulmer said, "we'll play better."


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