Heated rivalry

The last time Tennessee visited UCLA, September 6, 1997, a third-ranked Vol team had to hold on for dear life to nip an unranked UCLA squad 30-24.

It was a hotly contested game, with emphasis on the HOT.

"One of the hottest games I've ever coached in was the '97 UCLA game," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer recalled recently.

That memory has affected Tennessee's practice routine as the Vols put the finishing touches on their preparation for Monday's 2008 opener at UCLA. Fulmer figures heat could be a factor this time, too.

"I've tried to prepare our team for that," he said. "We've done a lot of extra conditioning as team to prepare. We want to have as many guys ready as we possibly can."

The Southern California region is known for its mild, low-humidity weather but temperatures project to be in the mid- to high-80s when the Vols and Bruins tee it up at 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday. Thus, keeping players fresh could be a critical factor in the game's outcome.

"One of our goals along the way has been to build our depth as an offensive and defensive football team and also in the kicking game," Fulmer said. "We've made significant progress that way to be able to go and play as many people as we can, particularly early in the season."

Tennessee's deepest position, of course, is wide receiver. Latrell Scott has three proven veterans in Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe and Austin Rogers, an improving junior in Quintin Hancock, plus three promising second-year players in Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore and Ahmad Paige. All could see action Monday, especially if the heat becomes an issue.

Scott said he expects to play "somewhere between four and six" wideouts in the opener, adding: "We may have to go with six because of the heat."

If he utilizes a half-dozen receivers, Scott says the six will be Taylor, Jones, Briscoe, Rogers, Hancock and Moore.

The Vol aide subsequently hedged a bit, however, adding: "We could see some Ahmad Paige. He started out slow because he had an injury but the last seven or eight days he has become the receiver we've all been waiting for him to be. He's given us the speed on the outside that we need and he's becoming more physical against press coverage. The sky's the limit for Ahmad if he continues to develop."

Whereas the Vols are seven-deep at receiver, they are just three-deep at defensive tackle, where Demonte Bolden, Dan Williams and Walter Fisher are the only dependable performers. Still, Fulmer is upbeat.

"I think those three guys are ready to have really good years for us," the head man said. "The concern is still building depth so you can rest those guys, especially if we get into a hot-weather game."


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