DBs rekindle memories of '98

Tennessee's 8-4 record fell far short of its 13-0 national championship season in 1998, but the Vol secondary may have finished the season playing as well as the '98 secondary did.

''I think they probably have,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said moments after the Vols limited Kentucky to 83 passing yards in the regular-season finale. ''As a group, they're playing really well. Mark Jones has added a lot back there in the absence of Rashad (Baker). And Julian (Battle) is just an unbelievable football player. Jabari Greer was blood and guts out there (playing hurt), Gibril (Wilson) is a nice hitter and Corey Larkins did a nice job filling in (for injured Willie Miles).''

Battle thinks the back-to-back 24-0 shutouts UT hung on Vanderbilt and Kentucky the past two weekends shows Tennessee has one of the top defenses in college football.

''We always thought we were one of the best in the country,'' he said. ''I don't think it showed in the numbers < we didn't have many picks (interceptions) as a secondary < but, as a whole, I think we were right up there.''

The key to the season-ending shutouts, he added, was relatively simple.

''Not giving up no big plays,'' Battle said. ''That's the key. Earlier in the year, we were playing good defense but we were giving up a big play here and there, getting 'em in scoring range. We haven't been giving up any big plays lately.''

While shutting out offensively challenged Vandy was no big deal, blanking the Wildcats was a stunner. The Big Blue led the SEC in scoring at 35 points per game, led by a quarterback (Jared Lorenzen) who lit up Tennessee for 406 passing yards and four TDs a year earlier.

''Last year we didn't get a real good rush on Lorenzen,'' Battle noted. ''Well, I don't know if it was that or just that he was breaking a lot more tackles, scrambling all over the place, breaking us apart. This year we got good pressure on him, made him throw the ball when he didn't want to.''

Head coach Phillip Fulmer suggested UT's offense and special teams also deserved a share of the credit when asked about the factors that went into the shutout of UK.

"Field position, which our special teams provided,'' he said. ''And ball security (no turnovers by the offense). Those two things right there will go a long way toward winning a football game.''

Of course, the lion's share of credit belonged to the defense.

''Defensively, we never gave up the big play,'' Fulmer said. ''We did a great job of managing the wind, and that wind was considerable. And our pass rush really bothered them.''


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