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November 8, 2005

Tennessee fighting for bowl



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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Bowl eligibility has almost been a given every season for the Tennessee Volunteers under coach Phillip Fulmer.

Not this year.

After losing 41-21 at Notre Dame last Saturday, the Vols (3-5) must win their final three games to make it to a bowl for the 17th straight year.

Tennessee hosts Memphis (4-4) this week, hoping to improve to 19-1 in the series, and finishes the rest of the season against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, neither of which has beaten the Vols since the early 1980s.

"If we don't get up for this game there's a chance we'll lose. If we lose, we'll be singing the tune `I'll Be Home for Christmas,'" center David Ligon said Monday.

"We want to go to a bowl game. To go to a bowl game, we have to get up for all three of these next games, and we have to win them all," he said. "We don't want to be remembered as the Tennessee team that didn't go to a bowl game."

The Vols have lost four in a row for the first time since going 5-6 in 1988, the last time they had a losing record.

"Our backs are to the wall right now to get three wins and the chance to continue our season somewhere," Fulmer said. "We desperately want to get a chance to do that."

Ending the current losing streak and finally finding a rhythm offensively is a higher priority for Tennessee right now.

"We'd very much like to keep that (bowl streak) alive, but right now we just need a darn good win," Fulmer said.

The Vols gave themselves a chance to win at Notre Dame by rallying from 18 points down to tie it at 21 in the third quarter.

But the Irish went back on top after Jeff Samardzija caught a pass and ran down the sideline for a 73-yard gain and then had a 4-yard touchdown catch two plays later.

And Tennessee's offense collapsed with turnovers, a familiar theme this season.

Erik Ainge's pass was intercepted on the Vols' next possession, and Notre Dame got a field goal to go up by 10. Ainge ended the ensuing drive with an intentional grounding penalty after he was pushed back to the Tennessee 5.

Notre Dame scored on another field goal and then returned a second interception for a touchdown.

Fulmer said he was concerned about some of Ainge's decisions.

"Some good things, some not good. The interceptions just really hurt. The grounding - he needs to move around in the pocket," Fulmer said.

"Some of that is coming with experience. He's one of those guys that wants to try to make a play. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. We want to use the system for what it is. There's nothing wrong with the system. It's worked well in the past."

Ainge finished 13-of-32 for 187 yards. Some of his passes touched the fingertips of receivers before they fell incomplete. Fulmer said injuries have plagued the receivers.

"I don't think we've been nearly as consistent there as we need to be and I don't think we've done anything spectacular really since the UAB game," Fulmer said. "Injuries have played a big part in it. If I thought they weren't giving all they've got, then I would have a whole different attitude about it. They would be sitting over there with me."

Fulmer said the team is far from giving up on the season.

"I can tell you the staff is going to be busting its butt to get ourselves ready and this football team, has shown no indication that it's ready to roll over and play dead," he said.

For more coverage of the Tennessee Volunteers, check out VolQuest.com.


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