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September 10, 2008

Fellow Blazers,

The first road trip of the season went smoothly...good flight, good food, and almost a great finish. After a bit of a sluggish first quarter, UAB came to life in muggy Ft. Lauderdale last Saturday. The Blazers kicked the offense into gear, but credit FAU, the Owls offense simply never kicked out of gear. Joe Webb had another good day, and what an afternoon for Frantrell Forrest. He picked up his second touchdown of the season and reeled in 11 passes for 149 yards - both of those numbers are career bests.

And despite the defensive struggles, the Blazers had a chance in the closing minutes. There was plenty of life, energy and enthusiasm on the UAB sideline late in the fourth quarter, which was great to see. Something that you haven't seen is finger pointing, and that's a good sign, also. There appears to be wonderful chemistry with this squad, and they know they are all in it together.

As for this Saturday...well, there's nothing quite like a game at Neyland Stadium. If you've never been to Knoxville on a football Saturday, do yourself a favor and go. Shoe horning 107,000 into a stadium makes for quite a scene. The Vols will be fired up for their home opener, and they'll likely still be smarting from that season-opening OT loss at UCLA on Labor Day night.

The Big Orange will live up to their nickname...plenty of orange...and they will be big. As always, Phillip Fulmer will field a strong, physical team that can fly around on defense and try to wear you down on offense. The Vols recorded four interceptions in the UCLA game, and returned one for a touchdown. The Tennessee offense, under new coordinator Dave Clawson, put 17 points on the board against a very good Bruin defense. There looked to be some "first game" miscues, as well as a few "new offense" miscues in the loss. They've had almost two full weeks to iron out their problems, so it will be interesting to see how much UT improves from week one.

The Blazers will take their potent offense to Knoxville, and I'll be very interested to see how Joe Webb and company fare against the Vols. Tennessee forced errors from UCLA's third-string signal caller, but he also picked them apart in the second half. What will the multi-talented Joe Webb be able to do? Turnovers will be crucial...the Blazers can't give it away, and the UAB defense desperately needs to come up with its first takeaway(s) of the season (FAU fumbled, but that was on a kick off).

The Vols have the home-field advantage...another factor this young UAB team will have to deal with. Crowd noise is an issue...hostile fans will be an issue...but the biggest issue is being able to respond to the physical style of the Big Orange. I think the Blazers can hold their own offensively...the defense needs to keep a positive attitude and make the routine plays...special teams, usually a staple of Tennessee football, may also favor the Green and Gold. Swayze Waters was back to 100% last Saturday and looked very, very good. The Vols are without their starting punter, and place kicker Daniel Lincoln, despite nailing a clutch field goal to force overtime, struggled against the Bruins.

It's the third meeting between the two teams, and Tennessee won the first two...actually, won the first one and escaped the last visit by the Blazers in the season-opener in 2005. For those that were a part of that '05 team, I would imagine they finally got "Rocky Top" out of their heads within the last week, or so. If a player needs any more motivation, that may be it. UAB has a chance to pick up its first win of the season...its first road win under Neil Callaway...its first win over the Vols...its third win over an SEC team...but if you play well on Saturday, the less reason they have to play that song.

Kickoff at Neyland Stadium is 11:30 AM central time, and we'll be on the air beginning at 10 AM. Raycom will televise the game on a regional basis, so check your local listings for the station in your area. Also, for those tuning in on the radio in and around Birmingham, we hope the signal will be a little better this weekend. Our affiliate here in town, WWMM live 100.5 FM, had some technical issues last Saturday that hampered the coverage area. We appreciate their help in addressing the problem.

Have a great week...we'll look for lots of Green and Gold in Knoxville (easy to spot)...and GO BLAZERS!!!

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