RECAP: Tennessee's 2003 season began much the way the 2002 season ended ... with the offense looking futile. Cedric Houston was smothered for no gain on the first play of Saturday's opener with Fresno State, then Casey Clausen missed James Banks with a pass. After two bad plays, however, the Vol offense found its rhythm, moving 76 yards over the next six plays to grab a 7-0 lead. Clausen hit Banks for 11, hit Mark Jones for 12, handed to Houston for eight, then hit Banks with a 36-yard bomb along the right sideline. After an incompletion, Clausen found Banks on a short crossing route, and the sensational sophomore raced into the end zone for the first touchdown of 2003. Houston had runs of 25, 13, 20, 4 and 4 yards on the next possession before UT stalled. James Wilhoit booted a 25-yard field goal but the kick was nullified by a delay-of-game penalty. Wilhoit then tried from 30 yards, pulling the kick wide left. Clausen was intercepted on the first play of Tennessee's third possession and could not move the Vols on their fourth possession. Fortunately for the Vols, their defense was impregnable. Fresno ran nine plays and punted on each of its first-quarter possessions.
KEY PLAY: The Clausen-to-Banks bomb that moved the ball from Fresno's 45-yard line to the 9-yard line. Clausen had an erratic day throwing, but he put this one on the money. Banks did his job, too, somehow keeping one foot in bounds as he stretched out for the catch. This was the type of big play Tennessee NEVER made last fall.
KEY PLAYER: Banks and Houston (tie). Banks caught three passes on Tennessee's opening drive, personally accounting for 56 of the 76 yards. Houston was just as dominating in the ground game, rushing 10 times for 95 yards in the first quarter.
KEY STAT: Tennessee amassed 162 total yards and eight first downs in the quarter, while holding Fresno to 14 total yards and zero first downs.
RECAP: Jabari Davis' first carry of 2003 was a memorable one. Less than two minutes into the quarter, ''J-Train'' got a handoff on third-and-two, hit a crease at left guard, beat one would-be tackler with a stiff arm and trucked the remaining 25 yards untouched for a 44-yard touchdown. Fresno mounted its first drive of the game at this point. Following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a short kickoff by Phillip Newman, the Bulldogs marched from their 47-yard line to the Vol 13. After a false-start penalty on Fresno, Vol linebacker Kevin Burnett sniffed out a screen pass and was so close to the intended receiver that Fresno QB Jeff Grady threw the ball to the turf, incurring an intentional-grounding penalty. Although the Vols were in a 3-man front on third-and-26, Constantin Ritzmann sacked Grady for an eight-yard loss, snuffing the threat. Neither team mounted much offense the remainder of the quarter, and the half ended with UT on top 14-0.
KEY PLAY: Jabari Davis' big run was set up by superior blocks from guard Chavis Smith and fullback Troy Fleming. They provided just enough of an opening for the slimmed-down Davis to bolt through and head for paydirt.
KEY PLAYER: Vol defenders. They limited Fresno's superstar wideout, Bernard Berrian, to just 17 all-purpose yards in the first half -- four on one reception and 13 on two end-arounds. With a youthful offensive line, Fresno's only chance at victory was to get some big plays from Berrian. Tennessee anticipated as much, and hounded Berrian wherever he went.
KEY STAT: Tennssee rushed 17 times for 170 yards in the first half, Fresno 16 times for minus-2 yards. In other words, UT averaged a first down (10 yards) every time it ran the ball, while Fresno lost roughly four inches each time it tried to run.
RECAP: Tennessee marched from its 28-yard line to the Fresno 18 before stalling. Wilhoit's 34-yard field goal try was ruled wide right -- he insists he made it -- and the Vols came away with nothing. Vol fans were becoming uneasy at this point, since UT was dominating the game statistically, yet held a somewhat tenuous 14-0 lead. Fresno freshman Mike Lingua solved this problem by shanking a punt that carried just five yards before sailing out of bounds at the Bulldog 28-yard line. Gerald Riggs ran three yards, then bolted 20 on a toss sweep. He was stopped in his tracks on first-and-goal at the 5-yard line but Clausen hit Tony Brown, who outbattled Fresno's Awan Diles to make the TD catch in the left corner of the end zone.
KEY PLAY: Riggs' 20-yard run. The Vols needed a big play to put the game away, and the sophomore from Chattanooga provided it.
KEY PLAYER: Tony Brown. In addition to his TD catch, he had two other receptions on the scoring drive -- a six-yarder on third-and-three at Tennessee's 35-yard line and an eight-yarder on second-and-four at the Fresno 42.
KEY STAT: Fresno was 0 for 4 on third-down conversion attempts in the quarter, bringing its total for the first three periods to 1 of 12.
RECAP: A 29-yard punt return by Mark Jones on the first play of the quarter put UT in business at the Fresno 24-yard line. A first-down sack of Clausen kept the Vols from advancing but Wilhoit nailed a 40-yard field goal to put the Vols on top 24-0. Tennessee's bid for a shutout ended when Clausen threw an ill-advised ''out'' route on fourth-and-three at the Fresno 21 that was intercepted by Richard Marshall and returned 81 yards for a Bulldog score. The PAT was botched, leaving the score at 24-6.
KEY PLAY: Jones' 29-yard punt return was a thing of beauty, setting up the field goal that put the game out of reach.
KEY PLAYER: Wilhoit. After missing field goal attempts from 30 and 34 yards, he nailed a 40-yarder from the left hashmark -- the toughest angle there is for a right-footed kicker. This not only sealed the victory; it had to work wonders for his confidence.
KEY STAT: Tennessee limited Fresno to 117 total yards, including minus-1 rushing. The last time UT held an opponent to negative rushing yardage for an entire game was Florida in 1998, UT's national championship season.