KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Tennessee Volunteers looked far from
the third-best team in the country Saturday.
The third-ranked Volunteers struggled with UAB all game and
weren't assured of a victory until Darrell Hackney's fourth-down
pass sailed over the head of Blazers receiver Lance Rhodes in the
end zone with less than four minutes left.
Tennessee (1-0) then took over at their own 12 and ran out the
clock on the 17-10 win.
"I'm not taking away from the fact that we got a win today, but
it's hard to feel great about it because I thought we'd play better
than we did on both sides," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
The Vols are off next week before playing back-to-back road
games at Florida and LSU.
"If we don't play better we're going to struggle especially the
next couple of weeks," Fulmer said. "So I'm expecting us to go
back to work and correct our mistakes."
Hackney, who dodged defenders all day, was 27-of-38 for 282
yards with one interception. But it was the one pass he didn't
complete that he was thinking about after the game.
"It was nice to come up here and show what we could do,"
Hackney said. "No one's satisfied with losing. We didn't make the
most of our opportunities."
Coach Watson Brown said this week he thought Tennessee was
physically one of the best teams he had seen since arriving at UAB,
but the Blazers (0-1) were not intimidated and made the Vols'
offense and defense look suspect.
"I don't feel like this was a moral victory," Brown said.
"Would I have been surprised if they beat us good? No. But I'm not
surprised we played them good."
The Vols have won 11 straight season openers, but this one
wasn't easy. The Blazers kept Tennessee from scoring in the second
half, but it wasn't enough.
"When you play somebody this good, you've got to make
(plays)," Brown said. "You can't miss one. You've got to make
them when you get the shots."
The game did not bode well for Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge,
who won the starting job over senior Rick Clausen. Ainge threw an
early touchdown pass, but was intercepted twice by Brandon
Register, the second one setting up UAB's last chance. Clausen
threw a TD pass and an interception.
Fulmer called Clausen's performance "one of the good things"
and said he would have to evaluate the quarterback situation,
adding that both would continue to play.
Clausen and Ainge rotated throughout the game, and Clausen
appeared more calm and in control. Clausen finished 17-of-24 for
217 yards; Ainge went 5-of-14 for 57 yards.
"Wherever the quarterback derby or whatever you call it goes
from here it doesn't matter. I'm just glad that we won," Clausen
said. "Basically, the questions about the whole quarterback thing,
I'd like them to stop."
Ainge was not available to speak to reporters.
UAB scored its only touchdown after an interception of Clausen
in the fourth quarter.
Cory Anderson bobbled Clausen's pass and Kevin Sanders grabbed
it for the Blazers. Hackney led UAB on an 86-yard drive capped by
his 27-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Lindsey with 7:50 remaining.
Gerald Riggs had 23 rushes for 110 yards in his first game as
Tennessee's featured ball carrier after mostly being a backup for
Clausen led the Vols on a scoring drive in the final minutes of
the first half for a 17-3 lead.
He completed a pass to Jayson Swain, who raced across the middle
and then down the sideline for a 31-yard play to the UAB 12. C.J.
Fayton made a driving catch in the end zone on the next play.
Ainge threw a 3-yard pass to Chris Hannon in the first quarter.
Register intercepted an overthrown pass, and UAB cashed in with
a field goal in the second quarter.