Sunday, September 17, 2005 - 6:20 p.m.
By Jim Kleinpeter
BATON ROUGE – Everything that special teams did for LSU at Arizona State a week ago went against Tennessee in its 16-7 loss to Florida on Saturday.
The Volunteers had a field goal blocked, fumbled away a punt and failed on a fake punt attempt in a defensive struggle. Any one of those could have made a difference for the Vols who fell to No. 10 in The Associated Press rankings with the loss.
“We had a meltdown from a kicking game standpoint,” said Vols coach Philip Fulmer in his Sunday press conference. “Give Florida credit. They didn’t make the mistakes to beat themselves and we did.”
The fumbled punt led to a field goal and after Tennessee’s next possession, freshman punter Britton Colquitt tried to pass for a first down when Florida failed to cover the Tennessee gunner. But Florida’s Tony Joiner hustled over to break up the pass and set up Florida at the Vols’ 32-yard line. The Gators kicked another field goal to make the score 13-7.
The pass was reminiscent of a play LSU made against Arizona State when LSU punter Chris Jackson completed a 12-yard pass for a first down from his own end zone, a risky play at best. Many teams instruct their punters to automatically throw the pass when the gunner (wide out) is left undefended. Fulmer said there was some miscommunication.
“We had a successful one last year with Mississippi as well,” Fulmer said. “This particular case, that wasn’t really intended to happen. It was my fault for not having communicated where the punter fully understood it. We have it in our system but last night wasn’t necessarily meant to be one of those.”
Despite those special teams blunders, Fulmer said there were other places the Vols could have played better. Fulmer used two quarterbacks, starting with former LSU player Rick Clausen. Erik Ainge came in after the second offensive series and played most of the remainder of the game.
Fulmer said an inability to take advantage of the Gators’ man-to-man pass coverage was another disappointment. “If we connect on some of those deep balls against man coverage things look differently, maybe we make them play differently,” Fulmer said. “We just didn’t make the plays in the passing game that we needed to make vs. man-to-man coverage.”
ROOM AT THE INN: The Vols will have a hotel Saturday, but won’t be staying in it Friday night. The team will stay in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Knoxville on Friday and is scheduled to arrive by air in Baton Rouge around noon on game day. Fulmer said the Holiday Inn Select in Baton Rouge will allow them to use rooms and banquet rooms long enough to rest, get a meal and go through pre-game meetings and preparation. The Vols will fly home immediately after the game.
“If we had done anything differently, it would have displaced some people there that are working with the folks in New Orleans to help them get their power back up and we didn’t think that was the right thing to do,” Fulmer said. “I’ll be interested to see how we react. I think we’ll do fine.”
QB DERBY: Fulmer said he won’t make any decisions on the Vols’ quarterback situation until film has been graded. Clausen, who started against Ole Miss for LSU in 2002, transferred to Tennessee in 2003. His older brother Casey starred there at quarterback. Clausen sat out 2003 and started the last four games last year because of injuries to Ainge and Brent Schaeffer, who has since transferred. He earned the Cotton Bowl MVP award hitting 18 of 27 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns in a victory against Texas A&M. He was two of five passing against Florida for zero yards. Ainge was 14 of 29 for 147 yards.
“Rick has made a lot of progress,” said Fulmer. “He’s an older guy, mature. He’s been around two good systems, LSU and ours. He’s way ahead of the game compared to most guys who haven’t played more than he has.”