September 2, 2008

Lincoln says he'll come back stronger

Daniel Lincoln clutched his facemask as UCLA coaches, players and fans celebrated wildly around the Rose Bowl Monday night.

Mere minutes after Lincoln had temporarily helped Tennessee avert an opening-season disaster on the road, the euphoria of hitting a 47-yard field goal to force overtime was short-lived. Lincoln's fourth field goal attempt of the evening, this one from 34 yards out, sailed wide left. Game over. UCLA 27, UT 24.

And just like that, Tennessee had opened its season with another stinging loss on the West Coast. While kickers are to football teams what closers can be to baseball teams, Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer said he wasn't worried about his third-year sophomore kicker bouncing back.

"I patted him on the rear at the end and said keep your head up," said Fulmer, who lost for just the third time in 17 openers but second in a row. "He's won games for us before here. He's a tough guy. Former linebacker, along with being the kicker (in high school). He's not one of those typical guys where you have to get a psychiatrist for. He'll be fine."

A Freshman All-America pick during his 2007 season in which he hit 21 of 29 field goals, including his first eight, Lincoln vowed to keep the game in perspective and get back on track.

"I'm not that guy. I'm definitely not that guy," Lincoln said of being one who would need a psychiatrist. "Went through a lot, coach challenged me in a very big way before I was even able to step on the field as a redshirt freshman. I know what I need to do and I know what my job is. I've got perspective in my life. Football is a game, and I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of what our job is and how big we are to the state of Tennessee. I know that the sun comes up tomorrow."

Still, Lincoln acknowledged he isn't sure how to handle this situation because he has no previous experiences from which to draw.

"I haven't been here before," said the Ocala, Fla., native. "We'll find out. I personally believe you give glory to God whether you do well or you don't. He gave me the opportunity to be here, to be a Vol and play in games like this. We'll see where we go from here. I can tell you what I'm not going to do: I'm not going to fold the tent. I'm not going to change the way I'm working. I'm not going to change everything. I know I need to stay the course and I'm going to continue growing. It doesn't define your career to miss one kick, and it doesn't define your career to make one kick. … Me going through a tough time now may mean not going through a tough time later."

Lincoln, who missed on attempts of 51, 55 and 34 yards but connected as time expired to give the Vols one final chance, took all blame for the misses. His first two misses came as Tennessee statistically dominated the opening half but couldn't make that translate to the scoreboard. Lincoln's misses could have given the Vols leads of 3-0 and 10-7 in a first half during which Tennessee commanded the ball for 17:01 and amassed nearly 190 yards of offense.

"I hit it good, and I hit all my kicks well, struck the ball well," he said. "The outcome wasn't necessarily what I desired or what anybody who follows Tennessee desired. There's no reason or excuse. I need to give credit where credit's due. First game, Bram Cannon came in and did what he needed to do. He was perfect tonight. My snapper (Morgan Cox) was perfect tonight. I was not.
Give credit where credit is due. UCLA did a good job. We made a lot of mistakes tonight, I made a lot of mistakes tonight. My snapper and holder did their job. I wasn't able to finish up the way I want to."

But it was Lincoln's initial closing that helped the Vols.

"I haven't gotten a chance to talk to him yet, but I'm just going to tell him it's a team effort," quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. "Defense played their butts off and kept us in it a long time. We kind of came on at the end and tied the game, and Lincoln was the reason we tied it. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have gotten to overtime."

Echoing what several players said, Lincoln indicated his teammates offered consoling sentiments as the Vols prepared to fly home from a hard-to-swallow defeat.

"We've been in the battles together," Lincoln said. "We win as a team and we lose as a team. They've been very supportive. They're supportive off the field and in the locker room. It doesn't make it any easier. It makes it a lot easier to have your teammate come up to you and pat you on the back and not be mad at you. We've been through a lot of battles and we go through some tough times together in offseason condition. The character of the team will come out during tough times."

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