KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee's defense set a goal this season: Regain the Volunteers' home-field advantage in Neyland Stadium.
The No. 19 Volunteers are a win away from getting the job done perfectly.
For the first time since 1999, Tennessee (7-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) is poised to go undefeated at home with one game left against Vanderbilt (5-5, 2-5) on Saturday.
``I think the fans have done it more than anything,'' linebacker Jerod Mayo said. ``Those guys really help us on the defensive side of the ball. Protecting this house has been the mind-set of this defense.''
Opposing teams always speak of how difficult it is to play in the fully enclosed Neyland Stadium, with orange-clad crowds that often number more than 107,000 and sounds of ``Rocky Top'' blaring in the background.
It's not that hard (for Tennessee) to be inspired in the beginning of a game because you have 100,000 people excited,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said after his Bulldogs lost 35-14 in Knoxville in October. ``They continued to feed off that energy and we just dug a bigger whole. We couldn't do anything to break the cycle of excitement.''
In 85 seasons at the Neyland Stadium site, the Vols have fed off the energy of the home crowd and won 79 percent of their home games.
But the current senior class entered this season having won 65 percent of their home games with a 13-7 record at Neyland Stadium. They've also gone 6-6 at home against SEC opponents and 2-5 against ranked opponents.
``We've been through the ups and downs,'' senior defensive end Xavier Mitchell said.
Even though Tennessee has struggled in most of its away games, in front of the orange and white the Vols have overwhelmed Georgia and Arkansas, pulled out an overtime win against South Carolina and cruised to easy wins over Southern Mississippi, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.
That means the seniors can add six wins, including three over conference opponents and two over ranked teams, to their career record. LSU is the only other SEC team unbeaten at home this season.
A win over the Commodores this weekend paired with a win at Kentucky next weekend will give Tennessee its first SEC East title since 2004.
Despite much fan criticism after the Vols lost to California, Florida and Alabama by a combined 77 points, coaches and players said they've seen the best turnout at the Vol Walk, the team's traditional walk from their practice facility to Neyland Stadium about 2 hours before kickoff.
Quarterback Erik Ainge said the Vol Walk and the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, which performs on field before games and forms a ``T'' for the players to run through onto the field, are his favorite features of playing at home.
Ainge and the other 20 seniors will be introduced one-by-one as they walk through the ``T'' one last time during Saturday's senior day celebration. But he won't be thinking about how he has a chance to go unbeaten at home during his last season.
``Those are the things you think of after the fact. Those are the kind of fun things that stay with you for a lifetime,'' he said. ``Right now we want to be unbeaten at home so we can put ourselves in a chance to go win next week (to win the SEC East).''
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