Vols prevent big plays

Vols prevent big plays

ATHENS — You don't have to be the best team in the country every day, said Tennessee defensive end Justin Harrell.

"You just have to be the best on Saturday," said Harrell, "and today we were."

Harrell helped anchor a defensive line whose play was a major reason the Volunteers snapped a four-game losing streak to Georgia with a 19-14 win here yesterday against the No. 3 Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound sophomore defensive tackle had two tackles, one for a loss, and a fumble recovery. He played a key role in jamming up the middle, enabling those around him to pressure beleaguered Georgia quarterback David Greene and hold the Bulldogs running game to only 56 yards.

"That's something we work on every day," said Harrell. "We work on getting the running back held up and then have someone get in there and strip the ball. You just have to do anything you can to get the ball on the ground."

The Bulldogs had 265 yards total offense. Greene finished with 15 completions in 34 attempts for 163 yards, but most of them came in a desperation-driven fourth quarter. Through the first three quarters had 41 yards on five of 14 passing.

To a man Tennessee players insisted they believed they were going to win going into the contest.

"We made mistakes in the Auburn game," said Harrell, "but they were correctable mistakes We knew coming in we could win. Georgia is a beatable team. We saw it on film ... no one is unbeatable.

"We had a great scheme and this game proved if we cut out our mistakes we can play with good teams," said Harrell. "This win is not a shock. Coming in we knew we had to stop the run and we did."

The Vols not only chased Greene all over the backfield they also tipped several of his passes which nearly resulted in interceptions.

"He has a low trajectory when he throws the ball," said Harrell. "We worked all week on, if we couldn't make the tackle, getting our hands up. It worked."

Nearly every question in the Tennessee locker room centered around the Vols pass defense which went from being one of the worst in the nation to a world beater. And, every question was answered the same way.

"We stopped the run," said coach Phillip Fulmer. "We knew coming in the first thing we had to do was stop the run. And we had to eliminate our mistakes. We were able to both."

There was no talk about great secondary play or a defensive line that harassed Greene virtually every time he dropped back, or linebackers that made the middle of the field an uncomfortable place to try to catch the football.

The Vols never let the Georgia running game get untracked. The Bulldogs had 19 yards at halftime, and 39 at the end of the third quarter. This was a year after Georgia ran for 186 yards, and Greene threw for 228 in a 41-14 win in Knoxville, Tn.

"We got a lot of pressure up the middle, too," said Fulmer. "We were able to jam everything up. We knew if we took care of the ball and played defense we had a chance."

The Vols, who turned it over six times against Auburn, lost two fumbles, but the Dogs were unable take advantage. One of the surprising statistics was that Georgia ran 70 plays to the Vols' 69. However, 30 of Georgia's plays came in the fourth quarter when it mounted a comeback that ended when Greene's pass for Leonard Pope fell harmlessly to the ground in the end zone on the game's final play.

"I think we're a tough-minded team," said Fulmer. "We're a team with a lot of pride and heart, and we've won a lot of games, big games, on the road."

Fulmer knows what he's talking about. The Vols' last road game was a 10-7 win at Miami last year.

The win thrust the Vols back into the SEC East Division race. With a win over Florida already in the bank and now Georgia the Vols will be favored in each of their five remaining conference games.

"I like the fact we know how to play with our backs to the wall," said Fullmer. "The key to our pass defense, as I said, was stopping the run, but also the simplicity.

"We kept the ball in front of us," Fullmer said. "We weren't going to let them beat us deep. We're very, very young and w didn't ask our young kids to try and do something they couldn't. And, we worked hard all week."

Fulmer also noted that he believed his team was prepared for the noisy atmosphere of Sanford.

"We've worked with noise for four weeks," he said. "Prior preparation helps."

The Tennessee offense also got plenty of credit from its defensive counterparts.

"The fact they were able to run so much clock really helped us," said linebacker Omar Gaither. "That was huge when they were able to take the opening kickoff and drive it the way they did.

"Then when we held them to three and out and the offense came back and drove it again for a the field goal it meant a lot to us," said Gaither.

"We were able to get a lot of rest and I think that made a big difference in the fourth period. We had fresh legs."

Gaither, a 6-2, 225-pound sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., led the Vols in tackles with nine. He had one sack and was credited with two and a half tackles for losses.

"We had an attitude adjustment this week," said Gaither. "Our goal was not to give up a big play, and to get off the field three and out as often as possible.

The strategy worked. The Dogs' longest play was quarterback D.J. Shockley's 24-yard touchdown pass to Fred Gibson in the second period, and five times Georgia was thee-and-out. One other time it fumbled on second down.

Tennessee had been heavily criticized this week by its fans and the media, but Gaither said it did not bother the players.

"Hearsay," he said. "You can't believe what you hear about us being not any good. You only believe what you see."

And, what everyone saw at Sanford and on national television is that the Vols are not all that bad.

"Certainly not as bad as we looked against Auburn," said Fulmer.

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