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FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

Fiesta gives Vols shot at revenge against Cornhuskers

By Mike Griffith, News-Sentinel sportswriter
December 6, 1999

Tennessee will get a chance to get even with the bully who kicked sand in its face two years ago in the Orange Bowl.

Nebraska pounded the Peyton Manning-led Vols 42-17 to win a share of the 1997 national championship.

The Fiesta Bowl is offering Tennessee redemption, having paired the Vols and the Cornhuskers for its Jan. 2 classic at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

"Nebraska kind of manhandled us the last time," said UT's Chad Clifton, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound offensive tackle. "But now, we're more balanced. This really is a different type of Tennessee team."

The Cornhuskers battered the Vols in the trenches in the first and only meeting between the teams.

Tennessee's finesse style of attack was largely ineffective against Nebraska's swarming "Black Shirts" defense.

Meanwhile, the Big Red's offense dwarfed the Big Orange's defense, as the Huskers relentless ground game piled up 409 yards.

Nebraska's theme in 1997 was "Leave No Doubt," and the Huskers stayed true to their word, much to the delight of their globally renowned strength coach, Boyd Epley.

"It happened in the third quarter, when we ran about 11 plays right down the field and wore down Tennessee," Epley said before the start of this season. "That's what we were trying to do, leave no doubt who the best conditioned team was. We made believers of them."

Fulmer, who at 76-13 (.854) has the highest winning percentage of any active coach, used the loss as a learning tool.

"We took some lessons learned in the Orange Bowl and that really helped propel our season in '98," Fulmer said. "Just the physicalness of playing at that level, it certainly proved we had some work to do. We made some good strides that way."

The Vols won the 1998 national championship with a physical running game and a beefed-up defense, and they're 9-2 and ranked No. 5 with a similar personality this season.

Nebraska hasn't changed much since the teams' last meeting. The Big 12 champions are still big and brutal.

"We have our areas where we are fairly physical," said Huskers' coach Frank Solich, whose team is fifth in the nation rushing the ball (268 yards per game) and seventh in the country at stopping the run (83.5 ypg).

"I think the mentality of our football team is very good along those lines," Solich said. "We've worked on maintaining our strength throughout the course of the season."

Tennessee senior quarterback Tee Martin has been the strength of the Vols' offense this season. Martin, who has a 22-2 record as UT's starting quarterback, developed a knack for making crucial plays over the last two seasons.

Martin gave a sneak preview of what was to come when he replaced Manning in the fourth quarter of the '98 Orange Bowl. Martin led the Vols on an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, completing 4-of-4 passes for 53 yards with an 11-yard scramble mixed in.

"Tee is a little harder to defend because of his mobility and the things we're able to do with him," Fulmer said. "Maybe we can give them a few more problems than the last time we played them."

Tennessee strong safety Fred White indicated that the Vols' defense has plans for a stronger outing as well.

"Nebraska would be a fitting game," White said. "That's the one team we haven't had a chance to repay."

TICKETS: UT's 15,000-ticket allotment goes on sale today. Tickets are $75 each and can be ordered by calling 656-1200 locally, or 1-800-332-8657 out of town. Tickets can also be purchased at the ticket office in Thompson-Boling Arena 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office will be open until 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.

INJURY UPDATE: Fulmer said he expects UT tailback Jamal Lewis (ankle, shoulder) to be 100 percent when the Vols resume practice on Dec. 16.

Fulmer said offensive guard Fred Weary (knee) is still questionable.

WHY UT?: John Junker, the executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, defended his selection of the Vols over Alabama when pressed.

"There were a number of factors that we looked at," Junker began, ". . . and of course we were aware of the result on the field between Tennessee and Alabama."

The Vols beat the SEC champions 21-7 in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 23.

THE LINE: Nebraska has opened as a 2- to 3-point favorite in Las Vegas.

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