Friday, November 7, 2008

Cowboys to face emotional Vols

University of Tennessee photo
Despite winning one national title, Phillp Fulmer will step down after the season as Tennessee head coach.

By Richard Anderson

Looking at the pros and cons, this could have the year to face Tennessee in Knoxville for the Wyoming Cowboys.

1) It’s certainly a down year for the Volunteers, 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the SEC.

1)The Cowboys are struggling offensively and are just 3-6 themselves. 2) Earlier in the week, longtime Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer announced that he was resigning (under pressure) at the end of the season.

It would appear that the cons are outweighing the pros again for the Cowboys.

While there has been a lot of struggles offensively for the Cowboys this season, they are also a little snakebiten. It would be their luck that playing at Tennessee would be hard enough as it is without the distraction of Fulmer’s resignation.

While player emotions could be down with disappointment from the Fulmer storyline, there’s also a chance that the Volunteers will look at this game and their final two to “win one for the Gipper,” and close out strong to become bowl eligible. Fulmer, who has spent his last 35 years at Tennessee as a player and coach, is considered popular with the players.

That was evident when much of the team attended Fulmer’s press conference on Monday when he announced his resignation and later expressed their anger and disappointment in the situation.

"I've never been, really, more pleased and honored than with the response of my football team,” Fulmer said. “Sometimes when you're not doing as well as you would like or anybody expects you to be, you don't always know where your team is. But this team, I've found, is a really unusual group, even though it's been a tough season for us along the way. They've continued to respond and practice hard and fight through the injuries, as we've played eight straight games and five of those being SEC games. So, I really do appreciate that.

“There have been a lot of former players, obviously, and great calls and e-mails. I will get back to all of them at some point. I obviously can't do that all here at one time, but I appreciate them and all the friends and family and everybody concerned. But our focus right now is to turn toward Wyoming. We were in earlier this morning as a staff working, trying to get our team ready. We look forward to the challenge.”

After three days of practice since his resignation, Fulmer said Thursday he likes the direction they are going.

“I have been very pleased with those guys,” Fulmer said. “I know there has been a lot of emotion attached to the week, and I think Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, getting back on the practice field was good therapy for everybody. The practices have had good energy and good concentration, and I've like the way they moved around.”

Wyoming coach Joe Glenn, who has also taken some heat for the Cowboys disappointing season, said it is difficult to see what is happening to Fulmer at Tennessee.

“It’s the hard part of this game. I don’t understand it … the what have you done for me lately type deal. He coached that team to a national championship,” Glenn said.

The problem at Tennessee, as well as Wyoming, has been on the offensive side of the ball. The Vols have an outstanding defense, led by sophomore safety Eric Berry (six interceptions), but have struggled with consistency at the quarterback position and hanging on to the ball.
Tennessee has lost eight fumbles this season and is 114th in total offensive nationally (compared to 111th for UW).

“They’ve changed quarterbacks a little bit and the turnover things has been a concern for them. They have fumbled a little more than they would like. You could just about mirror our two seasons,” Glenn said. “For sure, we’ve both gone down pretty much the same road and trying to get it patched up.”

Fulmer has been alternating Nick Stephens and Jonathan Crompton at quarterback this season, including last week against South Carolina. Stephens is 60-for-121 for 813 yards, one interception and four touchdowns. Crompton is 69-of-131 for 697 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

On the ground, Adrian Foster leads the way with 458 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

“They have probably thrown a little bit better than we have and we have probably run the ball a little bit better than they have,” Glenn said.

While the Cowboys have struggled against the Mountain West Conference’s big three -- BYU, TCU and Utah -- the Vols have dropped games to the best in the SEC -- Alabama, Florida and Georgia by a combined score of 85-29. Last week the Vols fell to South Carolina 27-6.

Both teams have been able to hang their hats on their defense, especially Tennessee, which is ranked 11th in the country in total defense. The Vols are tied for fourth nationally with 15 interceptions. Wyoming is 39th in the country defensively.

The Cowboys will return to action next Thursday at UNLV.

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