Bowl blunders

Sometimes there's just no beating around the bush ...

Shortly after visiting Busch Gardens last year, Tennessee gave a performance that was bush league. The Vols' 20-10 Outback Bowl loss to Penn State wasn't their worst performance of the 2006 season but it was close.

"We had some distractions throughout the week," junior receiver Josh Briscoe recalled with a frown.

Asked what type of distractions, Briscoe replied: "Individual things throughout the week. You're having fun, going to Busch Gardens and all of those things. But you have to be able separate that from the game, and I think that's one thing we didn't do well last year."

Since Tennessee is spending bowl season in tourist-friendly Tampa again this year, you have to wonder: Will the Vols suffer another lapse in focus? Probably not. Apparently, they learned from last year's mistakes.

"This team can't let those distractions get in the way of the game we're playing," Briscoe said.

In addition to the tourist attractions/distractions in Tampa, Tennessee's players this year are dealing with the impending departure of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who will leave immediately after the Outback Bowl to become head man at Duke.

"Coach Cut is a great offensive coach and a great head coach," Briscoe said. "He's going to be able to separate the two (jobs) right now. We know he's not going to let that get in the way of winning this ballgame."

Briscoe seems absolutely certain that Cutcliffe, despite his impending career move, is totally focused on the Outback Bowl.

"So are the players," the Vol receiver said. "We're not going to let Coach Cut moving on get in the way of this game. We want to get 10 wins, and so does Coach Cut."

The Vols also are saying goodbye to lame-duck receivers coach Trooper Taylor, who is headed to Oklahoma State as co-offensive coordinator. And there's the added distraction of six Vols being declared academically ineligible for this bowl game.

Briscoe says the task remains the same: Keep your eyes on the prize.

"We've just got to be more focused going into the bowl game and executing," he said.

One factor weighing in Tennessee's favor is the fact most of the 2007 Vols already saw Tampa's landmarks and attractions in 2006. They won't invest as much time and energy in sight-seeing this go-around, and that should be a boost to their bowl preparations.

"It definitely will be," Briscoe said. "Going back, the activities are basically the same as last year. We've just got to take control of everything, don't let the things during the week keep us from doing what we need to do in the game."

The Vols are convinced they were a better team than Penn State last January. When game time came, however, they didn't prove it on the field.

"Last year we had a lead on Penn State and we just didn't execute," Briscoe said, "and they came back to win the game."

Basically, the 2007 Outback Bowl saw the Vols lose their focus, lose their lead and lose the game. Briscoe and his teammates are determined not to let that happen again.

"It's just executing our game plan, going out and making the plays," he said. "If we play our game, we can go out and compete with anybody."

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