A Model Tee
Behind a finally healthy Tee Martin, Tennessee beat' Alabama to continue its climb back up the polls
The best player on the field at Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday was the same Tee Martin who led Tennessee to the national championship last season, not the quarterback who spent the Volunteers' first five games picking up injuries the way he usually picks up first downs. By rushing for two touchdowns and throwing for a third in the Volunteers' 21-7 defeat of one of their oldest rivals, Martin served notice that he's healthy.
All right, almost healthy—he was taken to the locker room after receiving a blow to his left knee as he crossed the goal line on a six-yard, game-tying touchdown run in the second quarter—but after a bruised clavicle, a sprained hand and a concussion, all of which Martin endured over a three-week period, a swollen knee is of no more concern than a hangnail.
The Alabama-Tennessee game had been billed as a showdown between Crimson Tide tailback Shaun Alexander, an unofficial Heisman Trophy finalist, and a Volunteers defense that hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Alexander ran for 98 yards, despite getting only one of his 20 carries in the fourth quarter, when Alabama quarterback Andrew Zow attempted 18 straight passes in a fruitless comeback try. Alexander also caught six passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. Tennessee junior Jamal Lewis rushed for 117 yards, 68 in the fourth quarter.
NFL scouts like the 6-foot, 225-pound Lewis better than Alexander (6'1", 220) because of his power. Alexander doesn't run over people, but he'll be Alabama's first consensus All-America running back since 1971. "I think he deserves the Heisman," Vols defensive end Will Overstreet said after the game. "Boy, he's hard to tackle, even harder than it looked on film."
So is Martin. The best explanation for his success against Alabama may have been simply that Tennessee had the previous week off. "I felt the best I've felt coming into a game since we were going into our second game, against Florida," Martin said after Saturday's victory. "I didn't run a lot during practice this week. Running today felt good. It kind of shocked me. The first quarterback draw I ran, I thought, Man, that felt good." That draw, for 19 yards, converted a third-down opportunity and kept the Vols' first touchdown drive alive. Martin also converted a third-and-14 with a 15-yard gain off a draw, ran two bootlegs for scores and threw a 43-yard scoring pass to David Martin (no relation) while absorbing a hit from Crimson Tide tackle Cornelius Griffin.
Alabama had come into the game with wins over three consecutive Top 25 teams, including Tennessee's nemesis, Florida. But the way the Vols controlled 'Bama, coupled with Nebraska's loss to Texas, pushed Tennessee to No. 4 in the polls, first among the once-beatens, and No. 4 in the first BCS ranking. Coach Phil Fulmer, noting the lack of dominant teams this season, has adopted the slogan WHY NOT US? He has a point. The Volunteers have no ranked teams left on their schedule. Unless Florida loses another SEC game, Tennessee won't have the additional hurdle of the SEC Championship game, which means they could finish effectively No. 2 in the SEC East and No. 1 everywhere else. Chew on that one.
Arizona, UCLA and North Carolina
Going from Bad To Worse to...
Arizona senior kicker Mark McDonald began the season with a respectable career record of 15-of-27 on field goal attempts, but he's 1-for-10 this season after missing a 45-yarder with two seconds to play in last Saturday's 44-41 loss to Oregon. He also flubbed an extra point in the third quarter that kept the Wildcats from taking a 28-27 lead. After that, coach Dick Tomey benched McDonald for walk-on freshman Sean Keel, who made the next two extra points but doesn't have the leg for long field goal tries. When McDonald ran onto the field for the game-tying attempt, the crowd booed him. "He's undergone so much abuse, and I hurt for him," Tomey said after the game. "People have been really unkind to him."
It could be worse, Arizona. You could be UCLA, which lost 55-7 to Oregon State. While the win by the Beavers was no surprise, their dominance demonstrated how far the Bruins have plummeted. UCLA has been laid low by a combination of injuries, inexperience and the embarrassment of the handicapped-parking scam. Now 1-4 in the Pac-10, the Bruins could become the conference's first champion to go from first to last in one season since...last year, when Washington State did it.