Caldwell was finalist for ASU job

Nobody on the Tennessee staff knows more about the Arkansas State program than defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell.

Caldwell played at Arkansas State in the mid-1970s and he was on their 11-0 team in 1975. That team had four NFL prospects, including a first-round draft pick.

When Arkansas State didn't go to a bowl game that year, the Southland Conference worked to start the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, with the SLC winner getting an automatic bid.

Caldwell had two stints as an ASU assistant before eventually being hired as a Tennessee assistant in 1994.

Caldwell said ASU coach Steve Roberts has done a great job turning around the program in Jonesboro, Ark. Roberts won 26 games his first five seasons. The previous five seasons, ASU won 11, including three the previous two years.

Roberts has recruited more speed and runs an effective scheme that dazzled Texas for 397 total yards.

``They have a great quarterback with super speed,'' Caldwell said. ``We'll have to do a super job to slow them down.''

The Indians have 13 players from the state of Tennessee, mostly from the Memphis area. Caldwell recruits Memphis for Tennessee. The Vols and Indians don't butt heads for recruits.

Caldwell said he's had ASU coaches call to ask if the Vols are recruiting a prospect. If so, ASU backs off.

``If I said yes, they normally wouldn't waste a whole lot of time and money,'' Caldwell said. ``Most of the guys they get are guys they have to take and build. They're not players expecting to play as true freshman. Most develop and become good players.''

After the 2001 season, Caldwell was a finalist for the ASU head coaching job. The timing wasn't right for Caldwell. He was helping the Vols prepare to play LSU in the SEC Championship game with the SEC title and a berth in the national championship game on the line.

``I asked them not to bother me at that time,'' said Caldwell, whose loyalty to UT might have cost him a chance to become the head coach at his alma mater.

``I felt like I owed that to this university because we were in situation where we had a chance and those kids had a chance to go play (for the SEC title). I wasn't going to jeopardize that at the time.''


It's early, but the early returns don't look good for Tennessee's defense.

UT's run defense ranked 90th in the nation. It's allowing opponents to average 5.0 yards per carry. The total defense ranks 102 in the nation.

Some other problems: The Vols don't have a good front four, this might be the worst tackling team since 1988 and they have been horrible on first down.

Check this out: Florida gained 381 yards on first down plays after Cal gained over 300. Big play after big play has put the defense in a constant hole.

Florida scored six touchdowns without getting to a third down. And the Gator trio of Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon James combined for 740 all-purpose yards.

``It doesn't take a specialist to know we're giving up too many big plays and it just so happens a lot are on first down,'' Caldwell said. ``We've really talked about it and worked on it. … We've never given up these type big plays. Some of it is youth and some if it is being in the (wrong) place,''

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis said he's encouraged that the defense can get fixed, or else he'd go home.

UT will be challenged Saturday night be a mobile Arkansas State quarterback and a powerful running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.


Arkansas State won the Sun Belt Conference in 2005 and played in the programs' first bowl game in New Orleans, losing to Southern Miss.

Roberts said it was a great experience for the players and the program.

``It was a heckuva a lot of fun,'' Roberts said. ``The players felt like we had turned the corner, we're capable of winning the conference championship each year and we have a chance to make November meaningful every year.''


Tennessee is 1-2. Texas is 3-0. But Roberts said he thinks the Vols are better than the Longhorns.

``They're a heckuva football team,'' Roberts said of UT. ``I really feel like they're the best team we've played thus far this year.''

Roberts said UT's schedule is the reason for the rough start.

``When you have to go on the road and play two top 10 teams, that's very, very difficult to do,'' Roberts said. ``They're a very talented, very well coached on both sides. They have a great scheme. Our challenge is to match or contain the speed Tennessee has because they're a very fast and physical football team.''


Roberts isn't into moral victories, but he feels the 21-13 defeat at Texas gave his team confidence.

The Indians outgained the Longhorns 397 yards to 340, held Texas to 117 rushing yards and had a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter. ASU recovered an onside kick with about a minute left by officials ruled the Indians didn't have at least four players line up on either side of the kicker. Replays proved the officials wrong.

``I thought there were a lot of positive things we could pull from the game because we did play well the majority of the time,'' Roberts said. ``Maybe we can draw some confidence from that, but the players were really disappointed because we had 10-12 plays during the course of the game and if we make three or four of those, we had an opportunity to win the game.

``Obviously we didn't go there to gain confidence. We went down there to win the game. We knew it'd be a difficult task but our players embraced the challenge and played fairly well.''


It's apparent Florida coach Urban Meyer doesn't like UT coach Phillip Fulmer.

Maybe it's because they've butt heads in recruiting. Maybe it's because UT dressed scout team quarterback B. J. Coleman in a Superman cape at last Thursday's practice to emulate Tim Tebow.

Meyer, no doubt, ran up the score on Tennessee.

When asked after the game by a New York Times reporter about that last touchdown which made it 59-20, Meyer asked: ``Is this on or off the record?''

``On,'' the reporter said.

``If I was coaching my last game,'' Meyer said, ``I'd give you a great quote.''

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