Fulmer says he still believes in team

The Phillip Fulmer bashers certainly have more ammunition than ever.

In Fulmer's last 19 games against SEC teams that ended the season with a winning league record, he's 4-14. Assuming Florida has a winning SEC record this season, he is 4-15.

Florida's 39-point win was Fulmer's worst defeat as a UT coach. His defense is giving up 459.7 total yards per game and can't stop teams with perimeter speed. He's now 8-8 in SEC openers, 3-8 against Florida.

People on the fringe about Fulmer have now jumped ship. Former players said they were embarrassed and humiliated by the Florida debacle.

Meanwhile, Florida coach Urban Meyer is 16-0 at Florida Field, 20-0 in the state of Florida and 7-0 against rivals Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State. He has proven to be a better big-game coach than Fulmer.

Now, more than ever, UT fans are questioning Fulmer and the direction of the program. More than ever, UT fans feel it's time for a change.

The same problems that kept UT from winning the East Division last year have prevented the Vols from beating California and Florida – the lack of a run offense, the lack of a run defense, the lack of a pass rush and the lack of effective special teams.

I was convinced before this season Tennessee would run the ball better than last season – by about 40 yards per game. Looks like I'll be wrong.

Tennessee got 37 yards on 21 carries against Florida.

``The running game was worse than I thought,'' Fulmer said on his Sunday teleconference after watching film. ``We got our butt whipped at the line of scrimmage, simple as that. They did a good job with their zone blitz package, but we'd worked on every bit of it. For the most part, we got our rears whipped.''

That's not encouraging. Tennessee might be able to run on Arkansas State this Saturday, but what about Georgia and South Carolina and even Mississippi State?

Moreover, UT didn't stop the run. Florida rambled for 255 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Fulmer said it wasn't a case of the front four getting dominated. It was not making plays outside.

``We got whipped on the perimeter,'' Fulmer said. ``We didn't have the speed to catch them.''

Tennessee's defense has been toasted in two games by fast, athletic offenses. Is Fulmer worried about the confidence level of his defenders?

``Yeah,'' he said. ``I think they'll be looking for leadership from us as coaches and from the leaders on this football team, and they'll receive both. We're not what we need to be at every position.''

Fulmer said Florida gained 296 yards on 11 plays – six by run.

Jerod Mayo was moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker this season. He hasn't been as effective inside. Fulmer said the staff has discussed whether Mayo would be better suited outside, but he said Mayo, Rico McCoy and Ryan ``firecracker'' Karl have done fine.

``What we need is more depth,'' Fulmer said.

And a win.

Arkansas State is next up. The Indians played Texas to a 21-13 defeat and gained almost 400 total yards. They beat SMU 45-28.

Fulmer has one eye on Arkansas State and one eye on his struggling team.

``I do believe in this football team and this staff, and we'll get it fixed,'' Fulmer said.

Three years ago, UT lost 34-10 to Auburn, but rallied to win the East Division and play for the SEC Championship.

Can this team turn it around?

``I do see the ability to do that,'' Fulmer said.

I don't, at least, not yet. If you can't run or stop the run, you can't win in the SEC.

If Tennessee doesn't beat Georgia in three weeks, Fulmer might be done. If the Vols start SEC play 0-2, I'd bet UT won't average 80,000 fans in the stands in the last four home games.

And nothing speaks louder than empty seats.


There is a coach who has been giving Tennessee fits in recent years, and I'm not talking about Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier or Mark Richt.

His name is Greg Mattison. Maybe you've never heard of him. He's the defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator at Florida.

For the past four years, he's had Tennessee's number in the run game. While at Florida, Mattison has coached against UT in three games. The Vols have rushed for 66, 37 and minus-11 yards. While at Notre Dame in 2004, the Irish held the Vols to 68 yards, and UT had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers that season - Gerald Riggs and Cedric Houston.

In Mattison's last four games against UT, the Vols have averaged a paltry 37.5 rushing yards per game and less than 2 yards per carry.

I'm not exactly sure what it is that Mattison does against UT, but it's working. And you can bet other teams will try to copy his scheme.

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