Is '08 an '05 replay?

Finding similarities between Tennessee's 2008 season and its disastrous 2005 season is a ridiculously simple task.

- The '05 Vols got inconsistent play at quarterback. Ditto for '08.

- The '05 Vols got very few big plays from their receiving corps. Ditto for '08.

- The '05 Vols got little push from their offensive line. Ditto for '08.

- The '05 Vols stopped themselves with key mistakes in clutch situations. Ditto for '08.

- The '05 Vols did not throw the ball effectively enough to stop opponents from packing the box with defenders. Ditto for '08.

- The '05 Vols had a good defense that tended to wear out in the fourth quarter from being on the field too much. Ditto for '08.

- The '05 Vols struggled to score (averaging 18.6 points per game). Ditto for '08 (averaging 18.4).

Given all of these similarities, the obvious question is: Will the Vols of 2008 post a losing record, as the 5-6 Vols of 2005 did? Certainly, the '08 Vols are on that path, carrying a 3-5 record into Saturday night's 7 o'clock kickoff at South Carolina.

So, what did Tennessee's coaches learn from the 2005 debacle that might prevent a replay in 2008?

"I like to equate it to life," defensive coordinator John Chavis says. "You're going to have tough times in life. The people who are going to survive are the people who understand, 'Hey, I've got to do something about it. I've got to work a little bit harder, a little bit smarter. But I'm certainly not going to give up.'

"People that take that attitude are people will survive. It may be somewhere else, but I guarantee it will be people that will survive."

The comment about "somewhere else" was an obvious reference to widespread speculation that this UT staff will not be back in 2009. With the '08 season already in a downward spiral, that kind of negative energy is difficult to ignore.

"It is a little bit," Chavis concedes, "but if you don't you're not going to move on. You're going to get mired in the mud. That's not being negative. If you don't (move on), then you're not going anywhere. You're going to be mired and stuck right there.

"As a football coach, I refuse to do that. We're going to move ahead. Certainly, that's what we're expected to do. We're going to be as good today as we can and try to be a little bit better tomorrow."

Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell also views the 2005 season as a life lesson that should help the Vols deal with the adversities of 2008.

"I think you learn as a person from life," he notes. "I've been through some tough times, where you have to pull up your boot straps and go to work. It's not just football. It's about life, too, and you learn a lot of good things about life in this game.

Although they have not played well, the Vols continue to play hard. That's a positive sign, given what a disappointment the season has been thus far.

"It's the way they've been brought up," Caldwell says. "You go back to the year we had the problems before ... '05 ... those kids never quit playing. They played their hearts out.

"I think it goes back to the way Coach Fulmer runs his program. You're going to have knocks throughout life. You'd better not give up because no one else is going to feel sorry for you. You've got to get up and go to work every day. That's what these kids are doing now. These kids still plan on winning every time they go on the field."

Secondary coach Larry Slade has noticed the same thing.

"The thing that these guys are doing, they're playing with great effort," Slade says. "Good things happen to people like that. That's the big tribute to Phillip Fulmer and this program: Despite all of the adversity, these guys are playing their butts off."

The main lesson Slade gleaned from 2005 is that coaches and players must focus on the things that happen on the field, not off the field.

"The key is to keep it together and not get caught up in all of the negative stuff," he says. "Our guys show up and they work hard. A lot of times you can tell about a football team from their special teams. If you look at our special teams, it's phenomenal the effort those kids are playing with."

Fulmer, already rumored to be a lame-duck coach, concedes that Tennessee's effort – unlike its execution – has been outstanding.

"I'm really proud of our team – how they've continued to fight, work hard and play hard to overcome the obvious struggles we're having at some positions," the head man said. "I still think that's the right attitude to take – focus on the objectives and not the obstacles ... not dip down into the negativity that sometimes (crops up) when you're not doing as well as you would like to be doing or as well as everybody would like for you to be doing."

Whereas the 2005 team got caught up in the negative energy and imploded, Fulmer is determined that will not happen again.

"I think it changes your perspective on life or your perspective on your team or your demeanor," he says, "and I'm just not going to let that happen to myself or my staff and our football team."


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