Volunteer Motivation

After Tennessee beat Georgia in the team's best performance of the season, coach Phillip Fulmer ripped a local media member for taking an ``incredible cheap shot'' at his team and program.

After Tennessee beat South Carolina, Fulmer cited an ESPN report that said UT has nothing to look forward to except signing day and the NFL draft.

After both of those games, players said they were motivated by negative comments about their coach and their team.

Is that what it's come to? Tennessee can't get up for a game unless it is prodded by the media?

Isn't playing against SEC rival Georgia enough? Isn't facing Steve Spurrier enough incentive, especially when a win helps you control your own destiny?

Unless Chris Fowler or John Pennington says something inflammatory against the Vols, you wonder if the players will be excited about playing against a 1-7 team that goes by the nickname Rajun' Cajuns.

Louisiana-Lafayette would be easy to overlook. The school with 15,000 students in the heart of Cajun Country isn't very good. It lost to Arkansas State 52-21 and gave up 681 yards. It surrenders 37.8 points per game. It gives up 233.8 rushing yards and 260.2 passing yards per game.

Offensively, the Cajuns can run the football, ranking eighth in the nation with 242.5 yards per game. But the 145.9 passing yards don't scare you, unless, of course, you're Tennessee's secondary.

Somebody on the Cajuns team figures to have a career day in the passing game, whether it's the quarterback, a receiver or a tight end. That's been the trend.

Alabama's DJ Hall and South Carolina's Kenny McKinley combined for 27 catches and 336 yards the past two weeks against the worst secondary in UT history. John Parker Wilson and Blake Mitchell had career passing days.

The Vols, who have lost five secondary starters since the start of 2006, start three first-year players in the backfield and a senior who is having an off year. That doesn't bode well for a team that still controls its destiny in the SEC East Division.

UT's secondary isn't the lone concern. The Vols haven't been good against the option. The Cajuns run the option well, behind quarterback Michael Desormeaux. They had 242 rushing yards against South Carolina, which held UT to 101.

So maybe this won't be a blowout, unless UT finds some source of motivation.

Tennessee center Josh McNeil said the team played for their embattled coach after the South Carolina game. Defensive Robert Ayers ripped the media for not understanding how hard the team works on a daily basis.

Josh Briscoe, the soft-spoken wide receiver who is tied for second on the team with 35 catches, weighed in on the anger toward the media.

``Everybody has a different way of looking at it,'' Briscoe said. ``Some people use it as motivation. Some people get mad. Personally, I use it as motivation, especially when you talk about my teammates and coaching staff.

``We're out here practicing as hard as we can. We're out here playing as hard as we can. When we go out and don't win, it hurts personally. But when you start criticizing my teammates and coaches, it's really personal because we spend a lot of time together and we work hard together.''

Briscoe said the worst criticism has come from fans and media saying the coaches should be fired. Briscoe has been there, done that. And it wasn't enjoyable.

``My freshman year,'' he said of 2005, ``we didn't play the way we should have played. We lost coaches because of that reason. I don't want to see that again. I don't want to be the reason why. Other teammates feel the same way. We don't want to be the reason why coaches are not here or coaches lose their job. They're not the ones playing. They come out with great game plans. It's just us not executing those plays.''

After the 2005 season, Fulmer fired receivers coach Pat Washington and offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders resigned after the October loss to South Carolina, but continued in the same role because no one else on the staff was capable of filling it.

When you listen to Briscoe, you hear a player – and perhaps a team – feeling the pressure of saving some else's career.

That might add to the motivation, but it can also add to the pressure.

Perhaps that's why you saw such a wild celebration after Tennessee blew a 21-point lead but defeated South Carolina in overtime.

Briscoe admitted there is more pressure.

``That's why you have to go out and play with a chip on your shoulder every week, letting everybody know you're here for a reason,'' Briscoe said.


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