Bolden owes Ainge, mates an apology

Tennessee defensive tackle Demonte Bolden has a lot of work to do before Christmas – and I'm not talking about shopping.

Bolden needs to write a lot of letters of apology – to his teammates, to his coaches and to Tennessee fans. The first one needs to be to quarterback Erik Ainge.

Bolden threw Ainge under the bus after Ainge's two fourth-quarter interceptions cost Tennessee the SEC Championship game against LSU.

If not for Ainge, Tennessee would not have been in the SEC title game.

If not for Bolden, Tennessee might have done just as well. A giant of a man with NFL ability, Bolden had only 26 tackles this season. He won't add to that total in the Outback Bowl.

Bolden was declared academically ineligible for the game against Wisconsin because he did not pass six hours in the fall semester.

What's worse: Throwing two interceptions while giving effort or failing to pass six hours while, apparently, not giving effort.

You won't hear Ainge throw Bolden under the bus, just as you didn't hear Ainge throw the defense under the bus after losses to California, Florida and Alabama, games in which the defense allowed an average of 39 points.

Some of UT's coaches tried to defend Bolden taking shots at Ainge by saying Bolden was prodded into the questions or that he didn't have time to cool off before meeting the media. That's bunk.

Bolden's comments about Ainge occurred at least 30 minutes after the SEC title game – which should be plenty of time to gather your thoughts and emotions – and he wasn't goated into his answers. I was there. I heard the questions.

Bolden was simply frustrated because the defense played well enough to win and Ainge threw two critical picks. So, Bolden was ready to trade some teammates.

UT coaches should have scolded Bolden, not protected him. How do you think that makes Ainge feel?

Maybe UT's defense of Bolden explains his plight. Maybe Bolden wasn't held accountable enough for his actions, and that's why he didn't do his academic work.

Bolden isn't the only academic culprit. Five other Vols – including starters Lucas Taylor (receiver) and Rico McCoy (linebacker) – didn't pass six hours in their major. Nickel back Ricardo Kemp, receiver Kenny O'Neal and defensive end Chris Donald, who is being redshirted, were the other three.

That, folks, is embarrassing.

It doesn't compare to the cheating scandal that will sideline about two dozen Florida State players in the Music City Bowl, but it's doubtful more than one or two other schools will have six academic casualties for a bowl game.

Losing Bolden and McCoy could be critical against a Badgers' team that averages over 200 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has depth at running back. P.J. Hill gained 1,080 yards in nine games. Zach Brown had 250 rushing yards against Minnesota and over 100 against Michigan. And Lance Smith averaged 6.2 yards on 65 carries.

Tennessee had enough trouble stopping the run this season with Bolden. The Vols were ninth in the SEC at 162.5 rushing yards per game and nine opposing backs cracked the 100-yard mark.

Senior J.T. Mapu, who had a disappointing season, will start in place of Bolden. Mapu had 22 tackles in 13 games.

UT likely will start Nevin McKenzie or Ellix Wilson in place of McCoy at outside linebacker. McKenzie is recovering from a small fracture in his ankle. Wilson played a lot at outside linebacker against LSU, but that was in place of strong side linebacker Ryan Karl (chipped bone in elbow).

Wisconsin has been a solid second-half team, outscoring opponents 180-133 in the last two quarters.

That doesn't bode well for a Tennessee team that not only was outscored 94-71 in the fourth quarter, but doesn't have as much depth entering the bowl game.

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