Homeward Bound

Tennessee defensive end Wes Brown grew up in Alabama, but that wasn't enough to make him a Tide fan.

His blood bleeds orange, not crimson.

His parents are Tennessee fans and he is, too.

``I followed Jay Barker when he was quarterback at Alabama, but I grew up a Tennessee fan,'' Brown said.

Brown grew up in Athens, Ala., a town of 19,000 about 15 miles from the Tennessee border. The first college game his dad took him to was UT-Alabama at Legion Field in 1995. UT won 41-14 to end a nine-game winless streak.

``It's a special time of year,'' Brown said. ``My dad really made a big deal out of it. It was something I watched growing up and I fell in love with it. I love the Third Saturday in October.''

Brown looks forward to playing at Alabama. In 2005, when he was being redshirted, he was scheduled to make the trip to Tuscaloosa. But his grandfather died and Brown attended a funeral instead.

Brown said a number of family and friends will attend the Alabama game.

What would a win mean to him?

``It would be great,'' Brown said.

Brown saw Tennessee beat Alabama 35-24 in 2001 when Casey Clausen was UT's quarterback. He went to an Alabama game at Bryant-Denny when Mike Shula and Joe Kines were recruiting him.

``They really pushed hard,'' Brown said. ``I ended up taking a visit and really enjoyed it down there, but I knew where my heart was – and that was here at Tennessee.''

Brown said he was impressed that Bama attracted over 92,000 for a spring game.

``That's pretty impressive,'' Brown said. ``That just shows how much Alabama fans love their football, just like here at Tennessee. It's a big deal to them with a new coach. It just makes it exciting for us to go down there and play in a great atmosphere.''


John Ward understands why the Tennessee-Florida game has become so important.

They're East Division rivals. The winner usually plays in the SEC Championship game. But the former Voice of the Vols doesn't see Florida as UT's biggest rival.

That honor goes to Alabama.

``I'm a has-been and I predate when the conference was realigned in '92,'' Ward said. ``Now, the primary thing is to win the division. From that standpoint, Florida is traditionally more important than Alabama because Alabama is in the other division.

``But as far as I'm concerned, the key game is Tennessee-Alabama. Always has been. Always will be.''

Ward said his greatest accomplishment as a Boy Scout was being selected to work as an usher at Tennessee football games.

``The Tennessee-Alabama game was the highlight of the year,'' Ward said.

One of Ward's fondest memories of the series was when Tennessee snapped Alabama's 11-game win streak in 1982. When he talks about the 1985 game, he doesn't point to Tony Robinson's injury or Dale Jones' interception. He recalls the officials mistakenly giving UT a first down and the chains moving before a measurement could take place.

``Alabama is special and this is a special weekend,'' Ward said.


A fast start could be key in this game.

In Alabama's five wins, the Tide has outscored opponents 71-10 in the first quarter.

In Tennessee's four wins, the Vols have scored on their first possession.

Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe takes a different approach than some play callers entering each game.

``I don't script plays, like a lot of people do,'' Cutcliffe said. ``You're testing the game plan, who you think you might could attack, where your best matchups are. There's no reason to wait on those things.''

Cutcliffe said he looks more at people, not schemes.

``You focus on personnel and see if you're right,'' Cutcliffe said. ``Sometimes you get shocked. You hope you go out and score every time … but any number of things can kill your momentum.''

Don't expect Cutcliffe to pick on Alabama cornerback Simeon Castille, who had two interceptions against UT last season. He's one of the nation's top defensive backs and he'll move around on the field to guard the opponent's top receiver.

``Not only can he cover, he can rush the passer,'' Cutcliffe said. ``He's a vicious pass rusher and a heckuva football player. He's a guy we've tested a little bit and he's usually passed the test.''

Tennessee's run game has passed the test lately, averaging 196.3 yards in the last three games after gaining just 113.7 in the first three.

``We've been more committed to it,'' Cutcliffe said. ``It's never easy in this league (to run). That can probably leave you quicker than the pass game can.''

Cutcliffe likes the lift guards Jacques McClendon and Vlad Richard have given the line, keeping other players fresh. He also likes the way Arian Foster had found holes with his cut-back ability.

``I think he's done a better job of not bouncing the ball play side, which became a habit a year ago, which drew a lot of criticism for us all,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I think he's really tried to get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and attack the line. That's helped him as a runner. And he's got really good vision.''

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