Tough Opener a Plus for Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer would have things to worry about Saturday if the No. 10 Volunteers were opening with an easy game, never mind the serious test they’ll face against No. 17 Syracuse on the road.
The situation removes any margin for error, but Fulmer says there are potential benefits to opening with a challenge instead of a glorified scrimmage.
``You really get to see where your team is when you open with a good opponent,″ he said Tuesday as the defending Southeastern Conference champions prepared to play the defending Big East Conference champions Saturday at noon EDT in the Carrier Dome.
``It’s something you can build on in the recruiting process. You get a jump-start nationally if you can beat a team like Syracuse.″
You can also take one on the chin, as the Vols discovered the last time they broke in a new quarterback on the road. That was 1994, when UCLA won the season opener in Pasadena 25-23 in the Vols’ first game after the departure of Heath Shuler.
Now Tennessee starts the post-Peyton Manning era with junior Tee Martin at quarterback. It’s a safe bet the Vols game plan for the loud, hot, hostile Carrier Dome includes giving the ball frequently to tailback Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 1,364 yards last year.
``I’m confident Tee will play within himself and do what we ask him to do, and do it very well,″ Fulmer said. ``If he’ll get the snap, take care of the ball, give it to 31 (Lewis) a bunch of times and do his thing in the passing game, I think we’ll be able to move the football.″
The situation on offense is different for Syracuse with fourth-year starter Donovan McNabb at quarterback.
The two-time Big East Player of the Year has accounted for 7,358 yards in his career. The Orangemen averaged 427 yards and 35 points a game last year.
``One of my biggest concerns is that they don’t take the ball and keep it away from us,″ Fulmer said. ``They keep the ball in his (McNabb’s) hands in a lot of different ways. It’s a very multiple offense.″
He said McNabb and the Syracuse offense are interesting and fun to watch, if not coach against.
``They’ll hit you with a good play and you may not see that play again for a quarter, they have so many ways of doing things,″ he said.
Against that the Vols will send a defense that has had to replace six starters.
Fulmer said Shaun Ellis and Corey Terry will start at defensive ends, with Jeff Coleman and Darwin Walker at tackles. Al Wilson moves to middle linebacker and will be flanked by Raynoch Thompson and Eric Westmoreland.
Cornerback Dwayne Goodrich is the only returning starter in the secondary. Fred White and Deon Grant are scheduled to start at the safeties, with Steve Johnson at the other corner.