Fulmer Looks To Close Career With One More Win

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Now that it's Phillip Fulmer's last time to take the field after 17 years as Tennessee's coach, he can remember a few senior days when he was so overcome by emotion it took him the first quarter of the game to recover.

But he doesn't want to focus on that.

"You can keep dwelling on this 'til it just drives you into the dirt," Fulmer said. "I want to celebrate the good things and that will be a good thing, we'll make it a good thing, and then we'll try to win a football game."

That game will be a Saturday night date with Kentucky (6-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) and a chance for the Volunteers (4-7, 2-5) to extend the nation's longest active winning streak by one team over another to 24 games.

And while the Vols players have vowed to win one last game for their beloved coach, the Wildcats aren't much in the giving mood.

"I figure these 23 years of losing to Tennessee is in the past. We almost beat them last year and the year before that so we're going to keep on trying to win," cornerback E.J. Adams said.

Three of the last four games have been decided by six points or less, and last year's installment of the annual border rivalry was one for the ages.

Tennessee blew a 17-point lead, and Kentucky tied it at 31 on a 20-yard Lones Seiber field goal with time expiring.

Three subsequent overtimes included a pair of touchdowns by both teams, an interception thrown by Tennessee and a blocked Seiber field goal.

Both teams scored touchdowns in the fourth overtime, but Vols defensive end stuffed Wildcats quarterback Andre Woodson's 2-point conversion attempt for the difference in the 52-50 win by the Vols.

"How close we came and going into all the overtimes ... That win (against Tennessee) would have made all the difference in our season last year," said Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson. "It's a really important game for us this year and we need to end on a positive note."

Tennessee players and coaches seem less concerned about maintaining their streak against Kentucky than they do simply gaining a win for their coach and their pride.

The Vols are hoping to avoid becoming the only team in program history to lose eight games in a season.

They're also trying to send off 24 seniors with a win since they won't get a chance to play in a bowl. This year's Tennessee seniors were freshmen in 2005, when Fulmer experienced his only other losing season.

"I think that the guys on this team through this year we've had to really pull close together and really kind of look to each other for support, because it's been a tough season. It's not what we expected," quarterback B.J. Coleman said. "I think we've got a good opportunity this week as well to play well against Kentucky."

Kentucky, bowl eligible for the third straight season, is hoping that a win over Tennessee will send the Wildcats somewhere other than the Music City Bowl in Nashville, where they've spent their last late December bowl excursions.

Kentucky coach Rich Brooks knows it will take more than a Wildcats win to possibly grab a New Year's Day bowl game. Five other SEC teams have a chance to finish with six or seven wins, making the conference bowl picture a bit muddled.

"I talked about it several weeks ago, when I said if we would have won out or won two of the last three games then all of a sudden our bowl scenario would have been a lot different than it is now," Brooks said. At this point in time, there are so many different scenarios that not only do we have to win, but we need help to have some things transpire."

The last few weeks certainly have been disappointing for the Wildcats. Kentucky lost tight games against Vanderbilt and Georgia.

But in those losses, they found a spark at quarterback. Freshman Randall Cobb, who took over for an unproductive Mike Hartline.

Cobb, an Alcoa, Tenn., native who has played at wide receiver and returns punts for the Wildcats, is second on the team in receiving yards (197), is second in rushing yards (294) and averages 8.8 yards in nine punt returns.

"Wow, you watch him and he's an extremely gifted athlete," Tennessee secondary coach Larry Slade said. "Outstanding speed. He can make you miss. He's very accurate. He can throw the football. That's a tough combination to deal with when you have that type of athletic ability and ability to throw the football the way he does."

Tennessee hasn't found the same spark at quarterback after playing five different players behind center this season.

Coleman saw his first game with meaningful play last week against Vanderbilt, contributing in a Vols rushing attack, but has been hobbled by a minor foot injury in practice this week.

Junior Jonathan Crompton is expected to start, Coleman or sophomore Nick Stephens could play and wide receiver Gerald Jones and safety Eric Berry could see a few snaps as well.

"It does give you a pause on defense because you have to cover all those things and recently our defense has struggled with assignments that we had covered well earlier in the season," Brooks said.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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