Vols inspired by media

After weeks of searching, I have finally identified the most valuable on the Tennessee football team.

It's not Erik Ainge. It's not Arian Foster. It's not Eric Berry.

It's the media. That's right, the media.

If not for the media, I'm not sure Tennessee beats Georgia last month.

If not for the media, I'm not sure Tennessee beats Arkansas 34-13 Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Almost every Vol player had some comment to make about the media doubting their ability to beat Arkansas.

``Our pride was tested,'' UT linebacker Jerod Mayo said after his 34-yard interception return for a touchdown put the final touches on an outstanding performance. ``You guys (media) tested us. Every time you guys talk about us, we go out and play good. So you guys keep talking bad.''

Actually, the media talk wasn't that bad this week.

Yes, quite a few media members picked Arkansas to win and questioned Tennessee's ability to stop the run. I was one of them.

But that's not disrespecting Tennessee's team, as many of the players felt.

``Our guys were motivated,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis.

Asked if he felt the players felt disrespected, Chavis said: ``I'm sure they did.''

We know why.

It's a bit amusing – or perhaps disconcerting – that a team has to rely so much on the media to get it fired up. If a newspaper columnist or a talk-show host doesn't say something that is perceived to be a slight, will the Vols be fired up to play Vanderbilt? Will they be ready for Kentucky?

If the media doesn't motivate the Vols, can UT's coaches?

When Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer started his post-game press conference, the first thing he said was: ``Don't doubt the heart of a Volunteer.''

Does that mean if you predict the Vols to lose, you're doubting the team's heart?

After Fulmer made references to people questioning his team, he said: ``If it (coaching) was an easy job, all of you would be doing it, right?''

Someone asked Fulmer why he was being defiant.

``I'm not being defiant,'' he said. ``I'm not being defiant. I'm proud of what we accomplished today. I hate negativity. I'm a very positive person.''

But his team seems to feed off the negativity. The defense was tired of hearing it couldn't stop Arkansas's explosive run game, tired of hearing it couldn't contain Darren McFadden, who tied an SEC record with 321 rushing yards against South Carolina.

``He's a great running back,'' Mayo said of McFadden, ``but he's not going to win the Heisman Trophy in Neyland Stadium.''

McFadden didn't. He gained 117 quiet yards on 22 carries.

Arkansas' Wild Hog package – which confounded UT's defense a year ago and exploited South Carolina's defense for 174 yards on 15 snaps – was mostly ineffective against the Vols. With McFadden lined up at quarterback, the Hogs gained 76 yards on 10 snaps, but 56 of those came late in the second half when the game was decided.

Tennessee limited the nation's No. 2 rushing offense to 127 – almost 200 below its average. The Hogs had 77 rushing yards through three quarters. They had 19 on the ground with 2:25 left in the first half with the Vols ahead by 13-3.

What is significant about that is Arkansas entered the game averaging 108.8 rushing yards in the first half of its six wins and 30.1 yards in the three defeats. The Hogs had 19 rushing yards in the first quarter against Tennessee.

``I think emotion is always a part of playing football,'' Chavis said. ``If you're not ready to play, you're gonna get whipped.''

Nobody knows that better than the Vols. They weren't quite ready for Florida and Alabama and got hammered. They were ready for Georgia and Arkansas and played lights out.

But the truth is, with Tennessee, you're not sure what you're going to get.

One game, you're watching a team that looks like it belongs in the top ten. The next game, you see a team couldn't beat half the teams in the SEC.

The team you saw Saturday afternoon was good enough to contend with any top-10 team. And a defense that had been riddled by California, Florida and Alabama stopped the SEC's top scoring and rushing team in its tracks.

What kind of sophisticated scheme did Chavis bring to the table?

He didn't. He said it was simple. He played mostly man coverage on the corners and put an extra defensive back in the box to help in run support. It worked beautifully.

``I don't want to take anything away from Arkansas,'' Chavis said, ``but I felt confident if we did things we're in position to do, we'd win the ballgame. Watching them (defenders) play, it was fun.''

Chavis said the defense drew confidence from the fact it held Arkansas to only 80 rushing yards in the second half of last season's loss.

Arkansas certainly contributed to UT's success. The Hogs were called for six defensive offsides penalties and the play calling was curious. On a fourth-and-1, Arkansas handed the ball to fullback Peyton Hillis off right guard, with McFadden and Felix Jones on the bench. UT stuffed Hillis.

And when Arkansas appeared to find a groove with the run game, it passed.

McFadden was obviously frustrated by the offensive struggles.

But give Tennessee credit. It did what it had to do with inspired play on offense and defense. The offense outrushed Arkansas 151 yards to 127 and kept the ball for 33:20. Arian Foster had 83 yards on 13 carries, including a 59-yard touchdown burst, and receiver Austin Rogers had six catches – four of which converted third downs.

``We played an entire football today,'' Chavis said.

With some help from the media.


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