Tennessee-MTSU game brings together two former Cyclones

By Wes Holtsclaw

   If the Tennessee Volunteers were hoping to gather a huge boost of momentum against Middle Tennessee State in preparation for their upcoming contest with Florida, they better rethink that equation.
   Blasted with penalties and a lackluster performance from their offensive squad, the Volunteers escaped Neyland Stadium with a 26-3 victory this past Saturday.
   The game was important to this area, as two Elizabethton High School players graced the field. Of course, Jason Witten had a complete game, but his former high school teammate Neal Wandell graced the opposing sideline in an MTSU jersey.
   It was the first time in many years that two Elizabethton football players stood on opposite ends in a Division 1-A college game.
   Wandell, a freshman for the Blue Raiders, was happy to be at the game this past Saturday and is looking forward to his career at Middle Tennessee.
   "They moved me up from the practice squad to get some experience and work in the defensive rotation," said Wandell after Saturday's match-up.
   "I have to work hard on defense, possibly take a redshirt year, but we'll see how it goes."
   Wandell has been pleased with the opportunity at Middle Tennessee, and has learned some things in the process.
   "I love it here, everyone is nice to everybody, and the atmosphere is good. Even though we play tougher opponents, we don't want to be underdogs. Our coach (Andy McCollum) has been putting that in us. We want to come out and win."
   Jason Witten was glad to see his former teammate.
   "I didn't know he'd be out there," said Witten, "I didn't get to say much to him after the game, but he is a fellow teammate and he is doing well. I wish him the best of luck."
   Witten had a great first quarter against MTSU with 50 yards and a score from two receptions. But with the injury to Kelley Washington, the defensive focus has been on Witten, forcing a lot of doubleteams.
   "It was good, but I ran into that double coverage. Tony Brown and some of the guys stepped up and forced them to start with the one on one, which was a tough match-up."
   "I got open early, but after that first catch they just focused on me. Kelley comes back in the next game which will open up a lot for me."
   Tennessee Head Coach Phillip Fulmer agrees that Washington's return will help elevate Witten's numbers.
   "With Kelley, Jason will get a lot of balls throughout the year. Right now he has three people on him every time he runs a route. We're not where we will be offensively yet."
   Witten was pleased with the win, but believes his team has a lot of work to do before their game with conference rival Florida.
   "We need to pick it up, we're not gonna pull that off and beat Florida. It's good to get a week off because we have to work hard. It was just frustrating out here, we had a lot of penalties tonight and it killed us."
   Witten believes the Florida rivalry will still be there without Steve Spurrier at the reigns of the Gators.
   "Anytime you come up here with Florida and Tennessee, it will be a battle, whether Spurrier is here or not. It will be better when Kelley is out here opening things up for us and the running game, I believe it will be an advantage for us."
   Despite a compete 24 of 29 game with 265 yards, a score, and a pick, coach Phillip Fulmer didn't think Casey Clausen played too sharp against Middle Tennessee State this past Saturday.
   Clausen battled through an array of penalties, and pieced together a decent performance against the Blue Raiders. However, he was very frustrated after the game.
   "It's frustrating when we know we can do certain things, and for whatever reasons we cant," said Clausen. "We're dying out there, we've got to run the ball with what we got."
   "Teams double team Jason (Witten) obviously, making others step up. We just didn't make a lot in the orange area."
   Clausen is ready for Kelley Washington in the Florida contest.
   "Things will change when he gets on the field, and he will be out there. I will make sure of that," joked Clausen. "We're looking forward to Florida, they are a great team and it will be a war. We've just got to learn from our mistakes."