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Tennessee Rolls Over California

No. 23 Volunteers get some relief with a 35-18 rout of the disappointed No. 9 Golden Bears.

September 03, 2006|From the Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — 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 in Neyland Stadium who watched 23rd-ranked Tennessee's 35-18 win over No. 9 California on Saturday.

"We expected to win this ballgame and be Tennessee," Fulmer said.

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," California Coach Jeff Tedford said. "The environment they create gives Tennessee a real ... 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 Volunteers 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 an eagerly awaited season. Cal's ranking was its highest since 1952.

"We just weren't very sharp. We didn't execute. We didn't catch it very well. We didn't tackle well," Tedford said.

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