A Familiar Tune

Written off after a humiliating loss to Alabama, the Volunteers have turned their season around heading into the Outback Bowl. Sound familiar?

TAMPA, Fla. - When asked how impressed he was that the Badgers, seemingly left for dead in October, were able to turn their season around and make a January bowl, Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer simply shook his head and chuckled.

"Sounds familiar don't it," he replied.

When you look at what the Volunteers

accomplished in 2007 to appear in their second-straight Outback Bowl, the resume is nearly identical to the Badgers.

Tennessee was holding steady in the SEC East after handling conference-rival Georgia 35-14 (UW was throttled in its conference opener in Florida, losing in Gainesville 59-20).

But a late October road trip, just like the Badgers, altered the remainder of the season.

On a seemingly harmless trip to Tuscaloosa to take on the struggling Crimson Tide of Alabama, Tennessee fell apart at the seams – letting Alabama run 84 plays, giving up 510 yards of offense – in a 41-17 drubbing.

Alabama held Tennessee's 33.4 points per game offense scoreless in the second half while the Volunteers committed a season-high 11 penalties.

"We didn't do anything well in that game," Fulmer said. "I remember we had a good week of practice leading up to that week and played like we hadn't done anything positive all week."

Tennessee returned home in Knoxville 4-3 overall and 2-2 in conference.

With that, Fulmer did something he claimed he hadn't done in ages, cancel the team's usual off day and call an emergency film session on Sunday. The purpose - watch the game film, learn from the mistakes and erase the bad memories in order to start preparing for the next team.

"Usually, we would have another day thinking about the game and that was huge for us to get it done," UT quarterback Erik Ainge said. "He told us we're not going to worry about this game, talk about it and we were all South Carolina from here.

"For the rest of the season, we would start meeting on Sunday night instead of Monday afternoon," Ainge added. "The extra day watching film really has helped."

Whether it was the extra day of film or the thick layer of skin, the Vols started rolling, rattling off five straight victories. The Volunteer wins weren't cheapies either - beating a South Carolina team at home in overtime despite holding a 21-point lead, a game-winning field goal against Vanderbilt to win by one and a four-overtime epic in Lexington over Kentucky.

"We put a lot of emphasize on executing and not try to get out of our realm," Ainge said. "The Kentucky game was a prime example of that."

Much like Wisconsin, Tennessee was a play or two away from playing in a BCS game. Holding the lead entering the fourth quarter over top-ten ranked LSU, the Tigers intercepted Ainge twice in the fourth quarter, including returning one for the game-winning touchdown, spoiling the huge upset and sending the Vols to the Outback Bowl.

"The championship game was our best effort of the year overall, although there were certainly times where we gave up a couple of plays," Fulmer said. "We've made significant progress from a fundamental standpoint and ended up more athletic at some positions."

But if Tennessee hopes to get to ten wins for the first time since 2004, the Vols will have to go into battle without six of their players, including three starters and two key reserves, because of ineligibility due to academic issues.

Fighting through extraordinary odds, however, is nothing new to this year's Tennessee team.

"A lot of people left us for dead after the Alabama game," wide receiver Josh Brisco said. "This team has fought through adversity all year. We're very talented, we have a lot of speed and we're going to do everything we can to go out and win the ball game."

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