Vol vengeance

If anyone should be No. 1 on Tennessee's payback list for 2009 it's the team that visits Neyland Stadium this Saturday.

When the UCLA Bruins rallied from a 21-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Big Orange 27-24 in overtime last September, they didn't just ruin the Vols' 2008 opener. They ruined the Vols' 2008 season.


Tennessee's administration probably would not have forced head coach Phillip Fulmer to announce his resignation last November if he'd been 4-5 instead of 3-6, since a winning season still would've been attainable.

Without Fulmer's resignation, the Vols would not have sleepwalked through a stunning upset loss to a pitiful Wyoming team five days later.

If you flip the UCLA and Wyoming losses, Tennessee would have finished the 2008 season 7-5 and earned a bowl bid. That might have been enough to save Fulmer's job.

Viewed in this light, last year's UCLA game ranks as one of the most devastating in Tennessee's recent history.

All-America safety Eric Berry didn't know at the time that loss would have such disastrous repercussions but he knew it was gut-wrenching.

"Just heartbroken," is the way he described the team's post-game mood. "We had 'em but we let 'em back in the game ... which you can't do with a good team."

Berry admits that the awful memories of last year's UCLA game provide added incentive for Saturday's rematch.

"It does motivate us, seeing what did happen last year," he said. "We lost to 'em, and anybody that you lose to you want to (defeat) the next year. That just shows that we can't take them lightly also."

Asked if the Vols took the Bruins lightly last year, Berry shook his head.

"I wouldn't say so," he replied. "We did lose focus at the end of the game but we didn't take them lightly."

Junior defensive end Chris Walker agrees that the Vols lost focus in the late stages of the previous meeting and let a game slip away that they should've won.

"Yeah. It definitely was," he said. "That was a game we wanted to go out there and win. It was on a national stage, and we wanted to prove ourselves to people, and we kind of let that slip away."

Although he admits that he hasn't forgotten last year's game, Walker says Saturday's rematch is not about vengeance.

"I think it's just the motivation for any other game: We want to win every game," he said. "The game from last year's going to be in our minds but this is just another game to prepare for and be ready for."

If any Vol has reason to hold a grudge against UCLA it would be senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton. The Bruins spoiled his debut as a first-team quarterback last fall. Crompton, though, insists that revenge is not the primary motive.

"We're not thinking about that," he said. "We're concentrating on us. They're a good defense and they're well-coached, so we're just going out there to play a good game."

Senior guard Jacques McClendon admits some Vols want revenge but suggests that the majority see UCLA as just another opponent.

"I think most of the people have done a good job of separating this year from last year," he said. "This is a brand new start, a brand new season. We're 1-0 right now and we're hoping to be 2-0 when that game's over."

To be 2-0 the Vols will need to maintain their intensity for 60 minutes. They did so for 45 minutes last time, then let UCLA steal the game in the fourth quarter.

"This year," Berry said, "we just have to make sure we stay focused the whole game, stay technically sound and just finish 'em."

Like the Bruins finished the Vols last year ...

Inside Tennessee Top Stories