'You're lucky and you got no D'
No. 1 Volunteers have plenty to prove Monday night
Posted: Wednesday December 30, 1998 11:02 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI
TEMPE, Arizona (CNN/SI) -- Tennessee has been bombarded by two themes from the first day the Fiesta Bowl pairing was announced.
One is that the Volunteers, at 12-0 the only major-college undefeated remaining, were lucky this season.
The other is what a quick and athletic and dominating defense their opponent, Florida State, has.
You know, No. 1 in the country, No. 2 against the run. Never allowing a back to go for more than 100 yards all season. Only two teams gaining more than 250 yards on them all year.
Lucky this, lucky that. Seminoles this, Seminoles that.
Well, Tennessee is here to tell you -- and anyone else who will be watching the national championship game on Monday night -- that its defense is not exactly, say, Cincinnati.
And, as for the luck argument ...
"There is not a speck of luck anywhere," defensive tackle Darwin Walker told the rapidly assembling media mass Wednesday in Tempe. "People have opinions. And we're out to prove that they aren't always right."
The Volunteers, for sure, escaped close calls against Syracuse and Florida in their first two games -- which is more than can be said for the Seminoles, who were clobbered in their second game by North Carolina State. Tennessee squeaked out another win late in the season thanks to a critical late-game fumble by Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner.
Those are the three main reasons many are calling Tennessee's perfect season flat-out luck.
The Volunteers, though, prefer to think of the close calls as fate. They are fond of saying that, on Monday, their destiny awaits them.
"We enjoy being the underdog," linebacker Raynoch Thompson said. "In fact, I expected that because it's been that way all season."
No one on Tennessee has more to prove come Monday than the defense, especially considering that many in the packed house at Sun Devil Stadium, and many millions more watching on television, will be keyed on the Seminoles' defense.
The Volunteers started the year minus seven defensive starters from last year, and they've been struggling to find cohesion ever since. With the biggest football game in Tennessee history staring them in the face, the Volunteers think they may have finally found it.
"While we may not have the size, we have built our defense around speed and pressure," Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "If you look at where we are now, it's a credit to our players. It's made coaching them a lot of fun."
Tennessee has allowed 303 yards (including 93.9 rushing) and 14.4 points a game -- all pretty impressive stats, but none quite as good as the Volunteers' opponent Monday night.
The one statistic Tennessee can point to is that they have forced more turnovers than Florida State (33-32), the Volunteers have allowed only one back to go for more than 100 yards (Alabama's Shaun Alexander) and ... well, heck, they are 12-0. They must be doing something right.
"We've played big games all season. This is a unique team with a unique chemistry," Chavis said. "When we were down by 18 points to Arkansas, our guys didn't get rattled. The bonding on this team has been special."
We'll all find out how special -- or lucky -- the Volunteers are on Monday night.
CNN/SI senior writer John Donovan will file daily reports from the Fiesta Bowl.
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