Nasty at Neyland

If you've watched Tennessee play football this fall you've probably asked yourself this question: How can the Vols look so great at times and so pathetic at other times?

The answer may be simpler than you imagine: The Big Orange tends to look great at home and pathetic on the road.

Consider these numbers:

- Tennessee is 6-0 at home, 1-3 on the road.

- The Vols average 40.3 points per game at home, just 25.2 on the road.

- Tennessee surrenders 17.3 points at home, a whopping 41.5 on the road.

- The Vols' two most impressive victories – 35-14 over Georgia and 34-13 over Arkansas – came at home. Their two ugliest losses – 59-20 to Florida and 41-17 to Alabama – occurred on the road.

- In the first half of their three SEC home games, the Vols outscored Georgia (28-0), South Carolina (21-0) and Arkansas (20-3) by a combined margin of 69-3. In the first half of their three SEC road games, the Vols were outscored by Florida (13-28), Mississippi State (17-14 lead) and Alabama (17-24) by a combined margin of 47-66.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer is no stranger to the home-field advantage. Between 1995 and 1999, his Vols went 31-1 at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee was still formidable at home in 2000 and 2001, going 5-1 each season. The home-field advantage eroded from 2002-2006, however, as UT went just 23-11.

Now the Big Orange is back to protecting its home turf. The obvious question: Why do the Vols play like chumps on the road and like champs at home?

"I think our young talent feeds off our home crowd a lot," Fulmer said. "It's exciting."

The Vols lost some fan support when they were gutted at Gainesville and lost some more when they were trampled in Tuscaloosa. Still, a bunch of vocal die-hards showed up Saturday morning to cheer the team on its trek from the athletics dormitory to the stadium.

"I didn't think there would be anybody on the Vol Walk because it was so early," Fulmer noted, "and it was packed. People are just unbelievably supportive, pulling for us. It all has to pay off."

Senior quarterback Erik Ainge thinks another factor has contributed in Tennessee's best home-field performances.

"I think it's circumstance, as much as anything," Ainge said, noting that the Vols followed a Game 1 loss at Cal with a Game 2 drubbing of Southern Miss, followed a Game 3 loss at Florida with a Game 4 rout of Arkansas State and followed a Game 7 loss at Alabama with a Game 8 defeat of South Carolina. All three bounce-back wins occurred at Shields-Watkins Field.

"Every time we come back home we always must win," Ainge added. "That's kind of the way this team has been since I've been here: Bend but don't break. It's not always pretty but we're going to get the job done and we're going to win most of our games."

In the midst of an otherwise inconsistent season, Tennessee has been consistently strong at home. Suddenly, the Vols are nasty at Neyland ... again.


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