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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Monday, December 27, 1999.

[Times & Free Press: Vols Assistant Well Versed on Nebraska Option]

Vols Assistant Well Versed on Nebraska Option

Assistant Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Nebraska won three national championships in the nineties and Tennessee has a link to each.

As good as the two teams have been over the last decade, Ryan Held has been better.

When the Vols won their first national crown in 40-plus years here last year, Ryan Held already had been there and done that. He has more national championship apparel than anyone on either team. Four times he left games with national championship implications as a winner.

Now a graduate assistant for Tennessee, Held played on the Cornhuskers' national title teams of 1994 and '95. Following that 25-0 run, he worked as a student assistant under Tom Osborne and was part of the staff that directed the Cornhuskers' 42-17 dismantling of Tennessee in the Jan. 2 Orange Bowl of 1998.

Some of the folks here in Tempe will probably remember the 24-year-old, who played wide receiver on the '95 national championship team that dismantled Florida, 62-24, behind quarterback Tommy Frazier in the Jan. 2, 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

"Ryan's somewhat familiar with their personnel and schemes. Like anybody else on the staff, it helps a little bit with personnel and you can see the schemes on film. We have a very veteran staff that's familiar with the option," head coach Phillip Fulmer said.

Held has been able to confirm suspicions defensive coordinator John Chavis and his staff have about Nebraska.

"I think I know them pretty well," Held said. "I was there form '93 to '98 and the last two seasons I was in the coaches' meetings every day and it gave me a chance to learn the offense and really figure out what they do and what they like and what they dislike," he said.

The Vols defense got an early look at Nebraska's option offense and at Held. Originally a quarterback signee with the Cornhuskers, Held was out running the option and showing the Vol defense exactly what they will see Sunday night in the person of sophomore quarterback Eric Crouch.

"They put so much pressure on the perimeter of your defensive team and still have the ability to run the tailback, too. The challenge facing us is to make sure we're not running laterally as a defensive football team. You throw the play action pass in there and it's even more complicated," Fulmer said. "A lot of it is recognition."

The Vols worked the first four days of practice in Knoxville on the option. Fulmer remembers well what happened in Ft. Lauderdale two years ago.

"The first time we played 'em, we did a really good job on the option for a half and then the tailback hurt us (running between the tackles) and that made the option better," Fulmer said.

Held remembers that game, which Tennessee used as a major building block for its title run the following season.

"One difference I've noticed from that game to now is the depth at Tennessee. Back then, they didn't have as many guys rotating into the game. We now have a lot more guys ready to play who do play so everybody stays fresher and, from what I've been told, the nutrition has changed a lot from then to now. The guys are eating better and they therefore have more energy," Held said.

Nebraska wore the Vols down in the second half, because of an edge in depth and in strength.

"Tennessee has more speed, there is no question," Held said. "With Nebraska, the big philosophy is explosive lifts, which we have been doing too. Our guys are also doing the platform lifts, the squats and when I got to Knoxville (right before last season's Fiesta Bowl, there didn't appear to be a whole lot of difference to me."

He'll find out this week, but he'll also renew a lot of old friendships.

"A couple of my friends have called me, but honestly, it hasn't been that bad," he said when asked if he'd fielded any 'questionable" telephone calls from Lincoln. "I thought I'd get a lot more, but most of 'em understand what I need to do and that my loyalty is with Tennessee.

"It will be weird to see them down there on the other sideline, but this is a business and I want to go out there and get after 'em. I'm not used to losing. There are a lot of bragging rights on the game for me, so I say whatever it takes."

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