Volunteers enjoy underdog role
Published: Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Two weeks ago Tennessee was supposed to win big, and now the Volunteers find themselves in a more comfortable position as underdogs against No. 6 Florida.
Fifth-ranked Tennessee (1-0) is 42-11 on the road since 1992, a record that includes some upsets in the state of Florida.
"It's a mindset, and truly each team and each game stands on its own. It takes a certain amount of really outstanding leadership and maturity on the team. I think we have that. We'll find out a lot about ourselves this week and next. This is a tremendous challenge," coach Phillip Fulmer said Tuesday.
He said the team has looked good in practice so far, but added: "I'll tell you a lot more on Saturday night after the game."
Some oddsmakers have predicted the Vols will lose in The Swamp on Saturday by as many as six points.
Players say they enjoy hostile crowds and feed off a lack of respect, two things they'll get this week and probably next week. The Vols will travel to No. 3 LSU on Sept. 24.
Tennessee opened the season with a lackluster performance in a 17-10 win at home over UAB that didn't do much to bolster its No. 3 preseason ranking. The Vols were picked to win by three touchdowns.
"I feel like we have to go out and earn respect, and the only way to do that is go out and play hard for four quarters and win," cornerback Jason Allen said.
Rick Clausen got the nod as the starting quarterback for Florida after coming off the bench behind Erik Ainge against UAB. Ainge is expected to play part of the game.
Clausen's only other appearance at Florida was in 2002 as a redshirt freshman at LSU and he played briefly at the end of the Tigers' 36-7 victory.
"We're going to find out pretty quick," Clausen said about how he expects to play in a pressure situation. "The louder it is, the better it is. That's the way I look at it, just because there's nothing better than going to another person's stadium and trying to silence the crowd."
Clausen's older brother, Casey, enjoyed his trips to Florida in 2001 and 2003, and both of those games were examples of Tennessee's success as an underdog on the road.
The Vols, a 17¶-point underdog in 2001, had not won in Gainesville since 1971.
Tennessee beat the Gators again two years ago and returned to the state later in the season to face then-No. 6 Miami, which had won 26 straight at home. Tennessee came away with a 10-6 victory.
Ainge, who helped the Vols set up James Wilhoit's game-winning field goal in last year's 30-28 victory in Knoxville, says he plays better on the road.
"I think sometimes at home you get too comfortable. I think when you're on the road ... you thrive on the other teams' and fans' energy," he said. "It's easier to get ready. You're just thinking about the game."
Steve Spurrier used to give Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer fits on and off the field.
New Florida coach Urban Meyer might be the kind of guy to get the banter going again after his predecessor, Ron Zook, didn't take many jabs at Fulmer. The No. 5 Volunteers (1-0) visit sixth-ranked Florida on Saturday.
One of Spurrier's most well-known Tennessee digs was that you couldn't spell Citrus without UT, a reference to the Vols' many trips to the Orlando bowl game following a loss to Florida and a runner-up finish in the East division.
Fulmer said he didn't know how Meyer's personality would affect the rivalry and would let the media decide.
"He seems like a very honest, direct kind of guy. I guess he'll say what he thinks. He's entitled to that. We all are, right?" Fulmer said.
Earlier this week Meyer had this to say about Tennessee: "They're not a team that will wow you with scheme," he said. "They're a team that wows you with personnel. They're as talented a team as I've ever coached against."
Admittedly, Fulmer is a firm believer in the running game and hasn't had a scheme as flashy as Spurrier's old Fun 'n' Gun. Meyer is bringing his spread offense from Utah.
"It's served us pretty well for a number of years," Fulmer said. "We've changed with the times as we've gone on a little bit, played with a lot of different things. I kind of like where we are actually."
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