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FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

Vols know Nebraska's strengths

By Mike Griffith, News-Sentinel sportswriter
December 8, 1999

Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin expected a battle against Florida State's No. 1-ranked defense in last year's Fiesta Bowl, and he doesn't expect things will be any easier this time around against Nebraska.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

"I think they're more of a challenge than Florida State," said Martin, who accounted for 297 of the Vols' 392 yards in last year's 23-16 victory over the Seminoles.

"Florida State is a predictable team on offense and defense with more speed than strength," Martin said. "Nebraska has speed and strength with a more complex offense and a more complex defense."

The Vols (9-2) and the Cornhuskers (11-1) will meet at 8 p.m. on Jan. 2 in a Fiesta Bowl that matches two of the winningest programs of the 1990s.

Tennessee is 99-21-2 (.820) over the last 10 years, while Nebraska is 107-16-1 (.867). The schools represent the last two national champions.

"Both of us are legitimate powerhouses," UT defensive end Will Overstreet said. "If we beat them, we'll be making a statement to everyone in the country."

Overstreet, a sophomore from Jackson, Miss., wasn't around when the Cornhuskers embarrassed the Vols 42-17 in the 1998 Orange Bowl. But he remembers growing up and watching Nebraska on TV.

"They just steam-rolled people," Overstreet said. "You knew when they played a game that nobody could hang with them. They were always one of those teams that could beat anybody, anytime, anywhere."

Including, as it turned out, Tennessee.

Vols' All-American safety Deon Grant was on the defense that gave up 534 total yards to the Cornhuskers two years ago.

"If we haven't become a more physical defense, that means we'll go out there and get blown out like we did last time," Grant said. "This is a chance to show people Tennessee's defense is for real."

The Vols' offense also faces a stiff challenge. Nebraska ranks in the top seven nationally in total defense, rush defense, pass defense and scoring defense.

"Whatever defensive scheme they come with, our offense can pick it up," Martin said. "I have confidence we can block anybody.

"The approach we take is that the mentality we take there is more important than the game plan," Martin said. "Playing Nebraska, we have to mold that mentality of playing physical before we go to Arizona."

Overstreet, like Martin, is confident despite his respect for the Big 12 champions.

"The mindset is, we go on the field, we'll play with anybody," Overstreet said. "This is a chance to earn respect."

TEE KNEW: Martin said he attended the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, in part, to bring a sense of closure to the regular season.

"The emotions I felt sitting in that stadium really finalized things," he said. "A guy asked me outside the stadium who's going to win. He was a Florida fan. I said, 'Alabama is going to win by 21; they are more physical.'"

POPULAR GAME: A recent Internet poll asked users to rate their interest in the BCS bowls. It's not surprising that the Sugar Bowl, this season's national championship game pitting Florida State and Virginia Tech, had the most interest (42.5 percent of the 43,698 voters). The Fiesta was second (30 percent), followed by the Alabama-Michigan Orange Bowl (24.1 percent), with the Wisconsin-Stanford Rose Bowl getting just 3.2 percent of the votes.

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