Vols rebound and send Cal reeling

Published September 3, 2006

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Months of frustration ended for Tennessee with an easy win against a ranked team.

Rocky Top returned to normal Saturday as Erik Ainge threw four touchdowns and the Volunteers put last year's losing season behind them with a 35-18 win over ninth-ranked California.

Robert Meachem caught two of the touchdowns for No. 23 Tennessee, including an 80-yarder at the start of the third quarters.

For at least a week, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer will be spared speculation about how many games he needs to win to keep his job. Fulmer described his only losing season as a 5-6 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 of the 106,009 in attendance stayed to the end. Their last glimpse of the 2005 Vols was in a loss to Vanderbilt.

For the Golden Bears, it was a shocking blow at the beginning of an anticipated season. Cal's ranking was its highest since 1952.

Many believe this could be the Bears' year to challenge Southern Cal for the Pac-10 title, and they still could with this out-of-conference game. But any run at a national championship likely was dashed.

Cal coach Jeff 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.

Sophomore Nate Longshore was making his first start at quarterback on the road after missing almost all of last season with an injury. Joe Ayoob, who replaced Longshore last year, relieved him in the third 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, whom the Bears are pushing for the Heisman Trophy, had 35 yards on five carries at halftime and finished with 74 on 12 carries.

Cutcliffe's main task was to rebuild Ainge after he struggled last year in a rotation with senior Rick Clausen. Ainge finished 11-of-17 for 291 yards as his uncle, Boston Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, watched from the stands.