By BETH RUCKER
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The final obstacle between Tennessee and a Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title lies on the road - a place that hasn't been kind to the 19th-ranked Volunteers this season.
Tennessee (8-3, 5-2 SEC) has won only one game on the road this year and suffered all three of its bruising losses away from home. The Vols travel on Saturday to Kentucky (7-4, 3-4) to face a Wildcat team that's as good as the Vols have seen since they last lost in Lexington in 1981.
``I don't really know the perfect answer of why we haven't been good on the road,'' wide receiver Austin Rogers said. ``We've played some good teams on the road this year. We definitely need to treat it as a business trip like coach (Phillip) Fulmer says and go up there and get a W.''
Tennessee completed its home slate last weekend undefeated after squeaking by Vanderbilt with a 25-24 win. The Vols got one solid road win against Mississippi State, but lost to California, Florida and Alabama by a combined 77 points.
The Vols have given up an average 23.2 more points on the road than at home this season and have scored an averaged 38.1 points at home compared to 25.2 on the road.
Their home statistics have been better in almost every category: they run the ball better, convert on third down more frequently, hold opponents to fewer yards, draw fewer penalties and score more in the red zone.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis acknowledged that the Vols haven't played as well on the road as they needed to, but felt that ``everything that can go wrong did go wrong'' against California and Florida.
``We've had some turnovers that were returned for touchdowns. We've had some punt returns that were returned for touchdowns. Defensively we didn't get ourselves off the field. It was a combination of a lot of things,'' he said.
But Chavis and the rest of the Tennessee coaches say their team has grown significantly since those losses in September and October and benefited from a four-game home stand with both decisive wins and close calls.
Fulmer said he was forced to use some young players in the Vols' early road games because of injury, and those players are now more mature having played in several games.
``I have never made a big deal out of being at home or being on the road, and that's because you've got to play and win at both in this league,'' he said.
It may also help that Tennessee is confronted with the same must-win situation this weekend that it's faced since beating South Carolina at the end of October. Wins in every game since then, including Saturday's matchup with Kentucky, meant a trip to the SEC championship on Dec. 1.
Plus Tennessee has had a way with the Wildcats in recent history. The Vols' 22 consecutive wins over Kentucky is the longest active winning streak over a single opponent in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Quarterback Erik Ainge said he likes where Tennessee is right now.
``I think we're playing good football. I think we're kind of hot right now. Whether it's 20 degrees and snowing or whether it's 55 degrees and sunny, we know it's still 11 on 11 and the field's the same size.''
Source: ncaafootball; Photo Credit: SECSportsmeda