For all the concern surrounding the quarterback situation following Tennessee's near-miss 17-10 victory over UAB, the reality of the Vols' season opening problems went much deeper than one position.

"Offensively, it was the silly interceptions, the silly dropped balls, the tip-toeing around of running backs, the tip-toeing around by the offensive linemen," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We came out and practiced not tip-toeing.

"It's all of us. It's receivers blocking down field consistently, the running backs making a cut, the fullback finishing a block. On offense, you've got to have everybody on the same page doing the right things."

The lack of continuity and consistency caused the running game to bog down in the second half, stifling Tennessee's offense and allowing UAB to take the momentum and drive into the red zone twice in the fourth quarter.

The defense survived both tests, but the secondary still looked suspect and the pass rush disappeared at times.

"If you're going to win championships, you better be able to play defense, you better have a good kicking game and you better be able to run the ball," Fulmer said. "Everything else is gravy."

Then, of course, there's that quarterback situation. Sophomore Erik Ainge won the starting job in the preseason and led the Vols to 10 quick points before hitting the skids. He completed five of 14 passes for 57 before Fulmer turned to senior Rick Clausen, who completed 17 of 24 passes for 217 and earned the starting job for Saturday's game at Florida.

"Rick will start and we'll rotate probably like it was," Fulmer said. "I want somebody to take the job and that be it. My concern is the running game. My concern is consistency in other areas - not letting a punt hit, not catching a punt on the 10-yard line without fair-catching it, those kinds of things.

"The quarterback is not a concern of mine. I don't think it's a concern of anybody else on this team or this staff. It's a great conversation piece, so I'll keep trying to be patient and answer questions."

While he's at it, perhaps Fulmer can find some answers for the questions about Tennessee's inability to beat Florida following an open date.

While Tennessee is 19-6 under Fulmer following open dates, five of those six losses have come against Florida. The Vols lost 30-14 to the Gators at Neyland Stadium following an open date in 2002, but the Vols also beat the Gators 24-10 in The Swamp following an open date in 2003.

The best thing about the open date is that it gives senior center Richie Gandy extra time to get healthy. Gandy missed spring practice with a knee injury and then suffered a partial kneecap dislocation during preseason practice on Aug. 18. Gandy, who started five games last seasons, missed the opener but is expected to return to practice this week and be available for the Florida game.

Speaking of Tennessee, Vol fans are already upset about the prospect of trying to find hotel rooms in Baton Rouge for Tennessee's Sept. 24 game at LSU. With Baton Rouge serving as a primary safe haven for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, hotel rooms in the general area will be hard to come by.

Tennessee officials want the game moved to the afternoon so fans can get in and out of town without having to spend the night in Baton Rouge but ESPN has the first choice of SEC games that day and wants Tennessee-LSU at either 6 or 6:45 Central Time. For the game to be moved to the afternoon, ESPN would have to trade it choice to CBS and take a lower profile game.

ESPN isn't the only issue. LSU officials also want to play the game in the evening in accordance with LSU football tradition.

"We want to get back to some sense of normalcy, and our tradition here at LSU is to play night football games," LSU Associate Athletics Director Herb Vincent said. "That is very much our preference for this game."

If Vol fans decide not to make the trip they'll have to sell or eat their tickets because they won't be refunded by LSU.

"LSU is not trying to be difficult in regard to Tennessee fans," Vincent said, "but it's more a case of trying to do what's right for the people of Louisiana."

So what does new Florida coach Urban Meyer know about his time at this point? Not much after opening the season with one-sided wins over Wyoming and Louisiana Tech.

"I don't know how game-tough we are," Meyer said. "That's not our strength right now."

He knows the offensive line isn't as good as it needs to be, and that quarterback Chris Leak hasn't played nearly as well as his stats would indicate. He knows DeShawn Wynn can get the job done when he sets his mind to it, as he did against Louisiana Tech when he rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 24-yard touchdown pass – all in the first half.

Meyer also knows his defense might be better than previously advertised, but it's really hard to tell at this point.

More important, Meyer knows the Gators have to get a lot better to beat Tennessee at home on Saturday.

"We do flip the switch this week," Meyer said.

Defense has been a consistent weakness for recent Ole Miss teams. Even when the Rebels won 10 games in 2003 it had more to do with the offense and quarterback Eli Manning. When the Rebels slipped to 4-7 in 2004, the defense took its share of the blame by finishing 84th nationally against the run and 66th in total defense.

That's what made Ole Miss' performance against Memphis so impressive. In their debut under new coach Ed Orgeron, a former USC defensive line coach who runs the Ole Miss defense, the Rebels held Memphis star DeAngelo Williams to 85 yards on 24 carries, forced three turnovers, made 11 tackles for losses and secured a 10-6 victory with linebacker Garry Pack's interception at the line of scrimmage with 20 seconds left.

"Things went the way they were supposed to go," said defensive tackle Jeremy Garrett, who beat out preseason first-team All-SEC selection McKinley Boykin for a starting job. "Now, we'll just move on to the next opponent and again try to do all of the things that made us successful."

That next opponent is Vanderbilt and a much-improved passing game led by senior quarterback Jay Cutler. While Vandy pulled off the 28-24 "upset" at Arkansas on Saturday, the Rebels had an open date last week to prepare for this week's game.

"I'm confident in our defense," Orgeron said. "But this was just a start. We can get a lot better."

So what's up with Vanderbilt? First a 24-20 road victory at Wake Forest to open the season and now a stunning win at Arkansas? Is it illegal recruiting? Performance-enhancing drugs? Does the NCAA need to investigate? How about Congress?

"We're battling as hard as we can," Vandy coach Bobby Johnson said. "That's all we can do and that's all we'll keep doing."

It's not that simple. In both games the Commodores led early, lost their lead and came back late to win the game. They trailed Arkansas 24-13 in the fourth quarter before outscoring the Razorbacks 15-0 the rest of the way.

"This football team has stepped up the past two games," cornerback Andrew Pace said. "We really believed and had confidence that we could pull out a victory even though the odds were against us."

One big reason for that confidence is the play of senior quarterback Jay Cutler, who completed 23 of 45 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns.

"We knew we had a shot," Cutler said. "Our line stepped up and our receivers got some great catches. Once you're in the red zone, it's different. Things can go crazy, especially for the defense. Our team didn't give up."

With its first win in an SEC opener since 1990 and its first win in an SEC road opener since 1984, the Commodores are 2-0 since 1988. Could the end of the world by near? For now, it's enough to know Vanderbilt now has five consecutive home games, beginning with Ole Miss on Saturday.

The best thing Auburn has going right now is its schedule. The defense took a big step forward in last week's 28-0 victory over Mississippi State, but the offense is still struggling to establish the running game following the loss of running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams as well as center Jeremy Ingle and guard Danny Lindsey.

"I give our defense an 'A' today, but it's a pretty low 'C' on offense," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said.

After throwing 44 passes for 342 yards and four interceptions and running only 19 times in a 23-14 loss to Georgia Tech in the season opener the Tigers came out determined to run the ball against Mississippi State. This time the backs carried 33 times and quarterback Brandon Cox threw only 18 passes. One week after the wide receiver recorded more than 250 receiving yards, they managed only four receptions against Mississippi State, while the tight ends combined to catch five passes.

The plan helped Cox complete 12 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions but the running game continued to struggle, with only 118 yards. With a 14-0 halftime lead, Auburn gained only 26 yards in the first four possessions of the second half.

"In the second half, we shut it down," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "We played so badly. We can't have that happen. We're lucky our defense kept us in it."

That's where the schedule comes into play. Auburn will spend the next two weeks playing Ball State and Western Kentucky before South Carolina comes to town on Oct. 1, followed by an open date and trips to Arkansas and LSU.

"We're going to get try to get the bugs out the next few games," Tuberville said, "and then we'll get back to the conference."

Mississippi State offered to move Saturday's game against Tulane to Starkville but the two schools reached a compromise and will now play in Shreveport.

The game was originally scheduled to be Tulane's home game at the Superdome but the decision to move the football team to Louisiana Tech in Ruston and play the game in Shreveport will at least give the Green Wave some kind of home base.

"There were so many issues up in the air, so many unknowns, I figured this is just one we could put to bed real quickly and help them out in a big way," Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton said. "We've never done this before. But then again, we've never had circumstances like this before."

Mississippi State will do its part by giving back its $200,000 guarantee to help Tulane's athletic department. The Bulldogs will also fly in and out of Shreveport on Saturday.

"We were adamant about making sure we didn't take hotel rooms away from people displaced by the hurricane," Templeton said. "As soon as Coach (Sylvester) Croom decided to fly, that solved that problem."

The Bulldogs last played in Shreveport in 2000 when they beat Texas A&M 43-41 in overtime in an Independence Bowl blizzard. Since then, the Bulldogs are 12-25.


Richard Scott takes over from Jimmy Hyams as Tiger Rag's new SEC expert. A longtime journalist in the Birmingham area, Scott has worked for a number of newspapers in addition to writing two books "Legends of Alabama Football" and "Tales from the Auburn 2004 Championship season." He can be reached by e-mail at

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