KNOXVILLE — Tennessee tailback Montario Hardesty was sick in bed Sunday and not simply skipping practice because he did not play in the Vols’ 41-17 loss at Alabama, according to head coach Phillip Fulmer.
Fulmer issued a statement on Monday regarding Hardesty’s absence and indicated that simple miscommunication was the root of the misunderstanding. The team’s second-leading rusher despite missing most of September, Hardesty did not play against the Tide and watched freshman tailback Lennon Creer get a crucial carry on third-and-1.
“Montario Hardesty was sick in bed with a 102-degree temperature Sunday afternoon and evening,” according to Fulmer’s statement. “He had called and left a voice mail with Coach (Kurt) Roper, who did not get his message until after practice. Montario had taken medicine and slept through the evening and night.
“I talked to Montario (Monday) morning. He was sorry for any concern he may have caused. He has been to the training room (Monday) morning and is feeling better.”
Fulmer’s statement was in direct contrast to his comments a night earlier when the Vols staged an unusual Sunday practice in hopes of putting a 24-point loss to the Crimson Tide behind them. Tennessee (4-3, 2-2 SEC) hosts 15th-ranked South Carolina (6-2, 3-2) Saturday (7:45 p.m., ESPN).
“I’m not sure what’s going on with Montario,” Fulmer said following Sunday’s drills. “His roommate doesn’t know where he is. We’ll find out an deal with it.”
Quarterback Erik Ainge came to Hardesty’s defense on Monday and praised the sophomore running back’s contributions to the team.
“Montario was sick. It’s not like Montario missed just to not come to something,” Ainge said. “He’s a good football player and he’s done a lot of good things for us. He will do a lot of good things for us. As a player I know we trust Montario to give us everything he’s got.
“I don’t want to get into all the details. There was some miscommunication. Montario didn’t just decide he wasn’t going to come to practice. There was some miscommunication. I think everything will work out with that situation.”
Benched for much of the 2005 season, Ainge also said he could understand Hardesty being upset about not playing against Alabama.
“The coaching staff had their reasons to do things,” the senior signal caller said. “Everyone thinks they should play. I’ve been one of them who said ‘Why aren’t I in the game?’ Everyone goes through that at some point in time. It’s not like we have some scrubs getting the ball. Arian Foster is playing as good as anybody right now. LaMarcus (Coker) came in and did some good things for us. Sure, he’s disappointed, he’s a good football player and he’s competitive.
“But he understands there are reasons for things, and as long as he comes out and has a good week I think he will come out and do some good things for us this weekend.”
SAME BUT DIFFERENT: The Vols find themselves in an almost identical situation to the 2005 season that dissolved into a 5-6 disaster that cost several assistant coaches their jobs and remains the program’s only losing season since 1989.
But Ainge said this team, which sits 4-3 through seven games instead of 3-4 as it did two years ago, won’t fold.
“I think it’s two completely different (teams),” Ainge said. “If you look at the wins and losses, yeah they are similar right now. But from a team standpoint and what we are doing and energy and everything around here is nothing like that. It’s like we are playing good, but not playing good enough to win in some big ballgames and we are making some mistakes that are costing us a win.
“So I don’t think it’s anything like 2005. It’s more just other teams play good and we make mistakes to hurt ourselves.”