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
Ainge finished 11-of-17 for 291 yards as his uncle, Boston
Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, watched from
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.
"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."