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GAME 5: Vols Play Host to Northern Illinois Huskies for First Time
TENNESSEE-NORTHERN ILLINOIS SERIES HISTORY & NOTES
Saturday marks the first-ever gridiron meeting between Tennessee and Northern Illinois.
Only one scholarship player on UT's roster--offensive lineman Ramone Johnson, from Chicago--hails from the state of Illinois. Walk-ons Daniel Slutsky (Bourbonnais) and Joshua Davis (Wheaton) also are Illinois natives.
The Volunteers have previously played just three games against current members of the Mid-American Conference. UT posted a 52-9 home win over Akron in 1989 and recorded a pair of home victories over Temple in 1944 (27-14) and 1990 (41-20). Current Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer was UT's offensive coordinator for the Akron game and the 1990 Temple triumph.
Fulmer has never faced a current MAC opponent during his head-coaching tenure (1992-present).
The Huskies return 55 lettermen and 20 starters from last season's 2-10 squad and are led by first-year head coach Jerry Kill, who coached Southern Illinois into the NCAA FCS playoffs each of the last five seasons.
BIG ORANGE DEFENSE STANDS STRONG AT AUBURN
The UT defense posted its best effort of the season at Auburn last Saturday, holding the Tigers to just 97 yards rushing and 226 total yards. The Vols' defense did not allow the Auburn offense to score in the second half and only allowed the Tigers into the red zone twice during the entire game. Knowing they were in a field-position battle, the Vols forced eight three-and-outs in the game, including four in the fourth quarter.
Solid performances in its last two outings have moved Tennessee to 17th in the nation and fifth in the conference in total defense. The Vols are allowing 258.0 yards per game and 18.5 points per game.
CUNNINGHAM COMING OFF CAREER DAY AT AUBURN
Punter Chad Cunningham helped give Tennessee an excellent chance to win Saturday at Auburn.
The Vols held Auburn scoreless on eight second-half possessions thanks in large part to the sophomore from Dawsonville, Ga. The Tigers best starting field position was their own 20-yard line, and the average starting spot in the second half was their own 13.
Cunningham punted 10 times Saturday for a 39.9-yard average, including 57- and 52-yarders that were the longest punts of his brief career. Cunningham placed five of those punts inside the 20-yard line and three were downed at the 5 or better against only two touchbacks. He also kicked off twice into the end zone for touchbacks to cap his best day as a Vol in only his fifth career start.
TENNESSEE DEFENSE LIMITING DAMAGE FOLLOWING TURNOVERS
While Tennessee's offense has been hampered by turnovers through the first four games of the season, the Volunteers defense--under the tutelage of veteran coordinator John Chavis--has performed admirably in damage-control mode. The eight takeaways recorded by opposing defenses have resulted in only 16 total points.
Not surprising, considering the stingy UT defense ranks among the top-25 FBS teams in four separate statistical categories, including total defense, rushing defense and pass defense
VOLS TIED FOR SEVENTH NATIONALLY WITH EIGHT INTERCEPTIONS
Through five weeks of NCAA play, Tennessee ranks tied for seventh nationally among FBS teams with eight interceptions.
The Vols are averaging 2.0 interceptions per game and an average of 13.5 yards per return.
Six different Vols have recorded a pick thus far, but sophomore strong safety Eric Berry and senior cornerback DeAngelo Willingham lead the way with two apiece.
THREE MEMORABLE VOL PERFORMANCES vs. MAC
Tennessee has only played three games against current members of the Mid-American Conference, but those contests have included some memorable Vol performances. Here are three of note:
CARL OFFERS TASTE OF VERSATILITY: CARL PICKENS, 1989
Sophomore wide receiver Carl Pickens was the star of the game for the Volunteers against Akron on Nov. 11, 1989. Pickens, who played both ways during the game, returned a second-quarter interception 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Vols a 21-9 lead. Tennessee would go on to win the game 52-9. Pickens also added one tackle and a pass break-up during a day in which the versatile Vol saw action on both sides of the ball. UT head coach Johnny Majors said of the game, "A big plus for us was Carl Pickens. His interception put some `oomph' into the defense. He touched the ball at least three other times on defense. He is as natural a player as any player I've ever had. He loves to practice, and he loves to play."
CARTER SETS UP THOMPSON: TONY THOMPSON & DALE CARTER, 1990
Tennessee tailback Tony Thompson carried the ball 19 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns as the Volunteers defeated the Temple Owls 41-20 on Nov. 3, 1990. Eventual NFL standout Dale Carter also enjoyed a big day against the Owls, as his punt returns of 33 and 13 yards led to Thompson's scoring runs of 2 and 16 yards.
GIVE HIM SIX (x3): ROLAND POLES, 1990
Also in that game 1990 Temple game, senior fullback Roland Poles scored three touchdowns on short bursts, two for 1 yard and another for 3 yards, up the middle and showed some verve in the open field. He ran the ball nine times for a total of 19 yards.
TAYLOR RIDING RECEPTIONS STREAK; RANKED 10TH IN SEC IN RECEIVING YARDS PER GAME
If he catches a pass against Northern Illinois, senior wide receiver Lucas Taylor will move to within a game of tying for sixth-place on UT's all-time list for consecutive games played with a reception with 19.
He has caught a pass in 18 straight games played entering the clash with the Huskies and has totaled 89 receptions during that span.
The Carencro, La., native is averaging 49.8 receiving yards per game so far this season to rank 10th in the SEC.
OPPOSING RUSHERS STRUGGLING
Prognosticators knew UT's secondary was a strength coming into the season, but the defense's ability to stifle opponents' running game has been a pleasant surprise. Through four games, the Volunteers defense is getting the job done.
For the season, Tennessee's opponents have rushed the ball 134 times but only once have they been able to break a play for more than 20 yards. UAB quarterback Joe Webb has been the most successful rusher UT has faced thus far, netting 78 yards (his long rush of 23 yards is the longest allowed by the Vols thus far).
The defense also has allowed only one rushing touchdown this season, and it was in the first game of the year. The Vols have not allowed a rushing touchdown in 12 straight quarters. An impressive stat that is made all the more impressive by the fact that over the past 21 games, the Vols have not allowed a rusher to score more than once. Former Arkansas standout Darren McFadden was the last player to score more than one rushing touchdown against UT.
JONES, ROGAN REV UP RETURN GAME
Sophomores Gerald Jones and Dennis Rogan are both speedsters who are dangerous in open space. The UT coaches have put both players in positions this season where their speed and elusiveness could best be utilized. For the season, Jones and Rogan have combined for 16 of UT's 31 plays that have gone for 20 yards or more.
Jones has lined up at four different positions this season (wide receiver, quarterback, kick returner and punt returner). At all four positions he has made at least one play of more than 20 yards. For the season, Jones has six plays of at least 20 yards--two kickoff returns, two punt returns, one reception and one rush. The Oklahoma City, Okla., native is currently 26th in the FBS with a punt return average of 13.8 yards.
Rogan has lined up at cornerback, kick returner and punt returner this season. The Knoxville, Tenn., native leads the team with 10 plays of more than 20 yards. Rogan has returned nine kickoffs for at least 20 yards and returned his only interception of the season 38 yards to set up Tennessee's lone touchdown at Auburn. The Fulton High School grad is 32nd in the FBS with a 25.4-yard kickoff-return average.
Rogan's career average of 27.58 yards per kickoff return ranks fifth among all active FBS players.