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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Tuesday, January 4, 2000.

[Times & Free Press: UT Learns the Hard Way: Come Strong vs. Huskers or Don't Come at All]

UT Learns the Hard Way: Come Strong vs. Huskers or Don't Come at All

Assistant Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- So it's on to the recruiting trail, back to the drawing board and headlong into the weight room.

"Yeah, I think you could say we learned a lesson -- several lessons," Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer said after his team's 31-21 loss Sunday night to Nebraska.

"If this team has the right kind of character -- and I think they do -- we'll learn from this. Two years ago we took the lessons from Nebraska and came back and had an awfully fine year the following year, so maybe we can do the same thing."

That may be the only solace. As Fulmer added, "There's a positive in most negatives if you have the right type character, and I believe we have the right character in this program."

Put up those green no-contact jerseys and prepare yourselves, Volunteers. Spring practice (which begins in late March) will probably be the most physical in recent years.

'You know it will be (physical). A lot of the young guys who were here for the national championship don't know how hard we had to work to get there," said quarterback Tee Martin, who finished his career on a losing note, but also with a 22-3 record as the starter behind center. "I think the coaches will make sure they find out."

"It's hard to spot a team like Nebraska 14 points and win," Fulmer said. "We had enough mistakes to lose the football game -- to lose two football games. We had our opportunities in both halves, but the first half specifically, and didn't take advantage of them."

"We need to execute better when the defense gets us the ball, and there are times when we need to get three points at least instead of nothing," said wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who threw a TD pass to Donte Stallworth.

"A game like this is sour, but it's motivation," Stallworth said. "You don't go into spring practice thinking about the loss, but you go into it thinking about the things that got us into this game, and I think we'll be working harder because of the loss.

"I think you'll see a lot more dedication. You can always work harder, and no matter how good you play, you can always play better," Stallworth added.

"We never want to be like this again. We don't want to lose the last game of the season," defensive end Will Overstreet said. "We don't want to have anybody driving 96 or 99 yards on us again.

"As a defense, we take this and look at it and say we all played bad and take it as a team. We get better from it together and grow stronger as a team. It's a motivation for us. We're going to be stronger and better than ever."

Nebraska wanted this game just as much as Tennessee, and the respect was there from the Cornhuskers.

"They were just as tough as I thought they'd be," said Nebraska I-back Dan Alexander. "They showed a lot of character coming back when we had the momentum early. They stuck it to us.

'It shows how good a program they are and what kind of coaches they have. We like to beat them because they're a great team."

Even in defeat, Fulmer maintained an even keel.

"It's disappointing, I guess, but when you look at the overall picture it's hard to be disappointed in these kids -- what they've done, how they've fought and what all they've overcome," the Vols' coach said.

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