Disappointed ... not dead

In the wake of a 59-20 beat-down at the hands of Florida, the psyche of Tennessee's players could be a bit fragile. So, where are the Vols mentally as they prepare for Saturday's game with Arkansas State?

"We're disappointed in our last ballgame," head coach Phillip Fulmer said Tuesday. "We're disappointed to be 1-2 at this particular point. We're disappointed but certainly not dead."

Fulmer said the enthusiasm and energy level were "very good" at practice, adding: "Our guys are working hard. There is a lot of football to be played yet, and they certainly seem to have an attitude that is very good, to go to practice and get themselves better and our problems corrected.

"I have not seen anyone that has not been accountable as coaches or players. It starts with me, certainly. I don't see anyone shirking their accountability, and that's a good start. But we absolutely must respond well."

The players promise that they will respond well.

"You can't change the past. You CAN change the future," quarterback Erik Ainge said. "That's something you learn. It's hard. I'd be lying if I said we only were upset about the Florida game for 24 hours. Coach Fulmer will say: ‘You can afford 24 hours to be pissed off, then it (your focus) is Arkansas State.

Ainge took the loss to Florida harder than most. He came off the bench to beat the Gators as a freshman in 2004 but went 0-3 against them as a starting QB.

"If you're as competitive as we are on this team, you don't forget," he said. "For me, I don't ever get to play a Gator again. That's the last time I get to play a Gator, so obviously it's a little tougher for me than it might be for other people."

Ainge characterized the mood in practice as "no different than last week." He says the Vols know from experience that teams who are slow to recover from a loss risk losing again the next week.

"There's no time in this league to be worried about a loss or you'll get beat," he said. "You've always got to be a step head and always be thinking about the next week."

Despite lopsided losses at Cal (45-31) in Game 1 and at Florida in Game 3, Ainge believes Tennessee is capable of winning its nine remaining outings.

"We're good enough on offense, good enough on defense and good enough on special teams to beat anybody if we don't give ‘em anything," he said. "We can't fumble the ball for a touchdown. We can't let people return punts. We can't let ‘em start with the ball on the 45-yard line because then they get 10 yards and they punt inside our 10 and they're making us go 90 yards.

"We're plenty good to beat everybody else we play if we don't give them anything."

Junior guard Anthony Parker, another team leader, believes the Vols show signs of bouncing back quickly from the devastating loss in Gainesville.

"Of course, after the game you had people who were down," he said. "That's natural. Who likes to lose? But we came out yesterday (Monday) and had a good practice. We got the loss behind us and now we're ready to play the next game."

The key for resurrecting the season, he says, is pretty simple.

"The leadership's got to step up, take over, not let the team go downhill," Parker said. "If we've got a couple of people saying that the season's over, we've got to get them all on the same page and let ‘em know that we're starting over. We're 0-0 and we're going to go out and try to win the rest of our games."

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