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FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

UT is ready to play Nebraska's game

By Mike Griffith, News-Sentinel sportswriter
December 18, 1999

Nebraska has won 10 consecutive football games against current SEC teams heading into the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl.

The Cornhuskers could have a streak of 100 victories against the SEC and it still wouldn't matter to Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin.

The Vols, Martin explained, are not your typical SEC team.

"The SEC is known for its finesse and speed," Martin said. "We're in the SEC, but we have the mentality of a smash-mouth football team that can also pass and play finesse.

"Nebraska is known for power and wearing people down. That's how they beat Florida a few years ago and that's how it was in the Orange Bowl."

Indeed, Martin stood on the sidelines two years ago in South Florida watching a UT team filled with finesse and speed suffer a humiliating 42-17 pounding at the hands of the Big Red.

"I don't think that game has any effect on this one," Martin said. "We're a lot better now than we were two years ago. We're stronger, faster and more experienced."

And obviously, very confident.

UT coach Phillip Fulmer said he's not interested in getting caught up in the hype.

"We were confident the last time we played Nebraska, too," Fulmer said. "But I think this team has played in a lot of big games since that game."

Martin is 22-2 as a starting quarterback since relieving an ineffective Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl loss.

"We've got a lot of momentum going into this game," UT All-American guard Cosey Coleman said. "The big thing about Nebraska's defense is that they play hard. They've got an attitude like they're supermen.

"We're not intimidated at all by Nebraska, but we respect them."

Martin doesn't believe the feeling is mutual.

"They won't have the respect for us that they should because they beat us bad," Martin said. "But our mentality for this game will be totally different than it was back then."

First-year UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said that's by design.

"Our offense has grown this season to include four receivers at times," Sanders said, "but we have not lost our personality of being a physical, hard-nosed team that's able to run the football."

Martin said he won't be afraid to tuck the ball and run.

"I just want to make plays, whether that's running or passing," said Martin, whose 317 yards rushing led SEC quarterbacks. "I'm really putting a lot into this game. This being the millenium, this is going to be something we'll never forget."

The second half of the 1999 season has been forgettable for tailback Jamal Lewis since he re-aggravated a shoulder injury and sprained his ankle.

But Lewis, like Martin, believes the Vols will stage a memorable performance.

"Nebraska is going to try to make it physical on us, we know that," said Lewis, the offensive MVP for UT in the 1998 Orange Bowl. "But there's some things we can do against them. We're going to hit it hard."

INJURY UPDATE: Lewis said the 21/2-week break enabled him to strengthen his shoulder and gave his ankle time to heal. Tailback Travis Henry said he's over the headaches that came after a concussion he suffered in the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt on Nov. 27.

Though both linebacker Eric Westmoreland (knee) and center Spencer Riley (knee) are near 100 percent, both will be limited in contact drills until the Vols' Dec. 27 practice in Phoenix.

Junior Toby Champion continues to work in place of Fred Weary (knee) at left guard.

BEST DEFENSE: Coleman said the 1997 Nebraska team had a good defense, but it wasn't the best he has seen in his career with the Vols.

"I'd say that would probably be Florida my freshman year," Coleman said. "Even last year, with Jevon Kearse, Florida was real good."

FEELING BETTER: Senior offensive tackle Chad Clifton said having elbow surgery in October was the turning point for him this season.

"My elbow had really been bothering me," said Clifton, a 6-foot-7, 325-pounder. "It's still not completely where it was, but since the surgery it has felt a whole lot better."

GRADUATION DAY: Six members of the Vols' team will participate in graduation ceremonies this morning. The newest graduates are fullback Phillip Crosby, deep snapper Kevin Gregory, punter David Leaverton and defensive tackle Darwin Walker, running back Myler Atherton and Troy McMaken.

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