Hard Knox: No. 9 Cal thrashed by No. 23 Vols in opener

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Relief replaced misery on Rocky Top.

Nine months ago, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was grim as he

answered questions about a 5-6 finish, his first losing season and

a bowl-less holiday for his Volunteers.

He may have been one of the most relieved -- but least surprised

-- among the 106,009 people in Neyland Stadium who watched the

23rd-ranked Vols' 35-18 win over No. 9 California on Saturday.

"We expected to win this ball game and be Tennessee," Fulmer


Erik Ainge threw four passes for touchdowns, showing big

improvement from a year ago. Robert Meachem caught two of the

touchdowns, including an 80-yarder at the start of the third

quarter that created a frenzy among the orange-clad fans.

"We've never seen anything like that. That's a pretty

impressive atmosphere, there's no doubt about it," Cal coach Jeff

Tedford said. "The environment they create gives Tennessee a real

home field advantage."

For at least a week, Fulmer will be spared from speculation

about how many games he needs to win to keep his job. Fulmer

described last year as an aberration, and the Vols might have

proved him right.

Tennessee had been 0-6 against top 10 teams in Neyland Stadium

since 2000, and many fans stayed to the end. After all, their last

glimpse of the 2005 Vols was in an embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt.

"We all felt disrespected," Ainge said. "This game tonight

wasn't just for Tennessee versus California. It was for the South

versus the West Coast, the SEC versus the Pac-10."

For the Golden Bears, it was a shocking blow at the beginning of

a greatly anticipated season. Cal's ranking was its highest since


Many believe this could be the Bears' year to challenge Southern

California for the Pac-10 title, and they still could with this

loss outside conference play. But any run at a national

championship was likely dashed.

"We just weren't very sharp. We didn't execute. We didn't catch

it very well. We didn't tackle well," Tedford said.

Tedford brought in new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar from

Northwestern to add the spread offense, but the Bears could do

little against the speedy Tennessee defense, which had to replace

six of its seven starters up front.

Sophomore Nate Longshore was making his first start at

quarterback on the road after missing nearly all of last season

with an injury. Joe Ayoob, who replaced Longshore last year,

relieved him in the third quarter and made the score more

respectable with a 40-yard TD pass to DeSean Jackson and a 1-yard

touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Marshawn Lynch, who the Bears are pushing for the Heisman

Trophy, had 35 yards on five carries at halftime and finished with

74 yards on 12 carries.

After halftime, the game turned into the kind of romp the Vols

were accustomed to in the 1990s with Peyton Manning under the

tutelage of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who was making

his return to his old job. Cutcliffe returned to Knoxville to

replace Randy Sanders after he resigned last season as head of one

of the worst offenses in the country.

"It felt really good. I've been on both ends of those, but I am

really happy for us and happy for what he has done for our

offense," Fulmer said.

Cutcliffe's main task was to rebuild Ainge after he struggled

last year in a rotation with senior Rick Clausen. Ainge warmed up

early with a 41-yard strike to Meachem on Tennessee's first

offensive play.

Ainge finished 11-of-17 for 291 yards as his uncle, Boston

Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, watched from

the stands.

Ainge had plenty of protection from Cal's vaunted defensive line

anchored by All-Pac-10 tackle Brandon Mebane. The Vols exposed

Cal's secondary, which had three players starting for the first

time after star cornerback Tim Mixon hurt his knee in the


Chris Brown caught the Vols' first TD pass, a 12-yarder from


The Vols even got a break that led to their second touchdown.

Meachem caught a pass and turned up field toward the first-down

marker, but the official called him short. Fulmer threw down his

hat, and the officials in the review booth looked at it again. They

determined Meachem reached the first down. Two plays later, Meachem

hauled in another pass, broke a tackle and beat the defenders down

the sideline to the end zone for a 42-yard TD.

Jayson Swain added a 50-yard touchdown reception, and redshirt

freshman Montario Hardesty broke a free from a slew of tacklers for

a 43-yard run for another score midway through the third quarter.

"We wanted to win very very bad because we never felt like we

were as bad last year as everybody said we were. We just had bad

things happen to us," Fulmer said. "Now, we're all even."