Slow Starts

In 1989, Tennessee looked lethargic in escaping with a 17-14 victory over an unheralded Colorado State team coached by Earl Bruce.

The next week, the Vols upset UCLA in Pasadena on the way to an 11-1 season, a share of the SEC Championship and a Cotton Bowl victory that resulted in a No. 4 ranking.

In 2001, the Vols opened with a less-than-spirited 33-9 win over Syracuse. Tennessee went on to win the East Division, play for the SEC title and win the Florida Citrus Bowl on the way to a No. 4 ranking.

You can't tell about season openers.

But you can tell a few things. You can tell Tennessee has a long way to go to be an SEC contender, much less a national contender.

The Vols' offensive line must improve, the receivers have to quit dropping passes and the defensive backs have to make more plays.

It's worth noting that only once in the last 20 years have the Vols come out of the gate strong and have a mediocre season - 1992.

* If Tennessee plays at LSU on Sept. 24, UT athletic director Mike Hamilton wants it to be during the afternoon.

ESPN has the first choice of SEC games that day and was thought to be leaning to playing the UT-LSU game at 7:45 p.m. ET. But an afternoon game would allow the team and traveling fans (they bought 7,500 tickets) to get in and out of Baton Rouge without needing an overnight stay in an area jam packed with evacuees.

To play in the afternoon, ESPN would have to relent and allow CBS to take the Tennessee-LSU contest in what could be that weekend's only matchup of top 10 teams.

Dr. Jerry Punch of ESPN said his network would be agreeable to the change provided CBS would allow ESPN to pick another marquee game later this season.

Hamilton said playing the LSU game in Knoxville is virtually impossible. He said he hopes to be able to take the team to Baton Rouge on Friday night and play Saturday. He said the decision rests with LSU, but the SEC office could intervene.

* Three Tennessee football players have insurance against a career-ending injury while two others are in pursuit.

Cornerback Jason Allen, defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona and defense end Parys Haralson have insurance. Gerald Riggs is in the process. He said he applied too late to get it before the first game. Because of injuries, Simon has yet to get the insurance, but hopes to play his way into being projected as a first-day NFL pick.

To qualify, you must project to be picked in the first three rounds of the draft.

* Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said Erik Ainge was affected when he was lifted after three series in favor of Rick Clausen.

Because Clausen had performed so well during August camp, the Vols decided to reward him by inserting him in the third series.

Ainge led Tennessee to 10 points on his first two series but wasn't affective when he returned. Meanwhile, Clausen was sharp the entire game.

* If you're looking for more reasons to start Clausen at Florida, here they are:

Each quarterback played five series. Clausen gained 303 yards and 17 first downs. Ainge gained 127 yards and seven first downs.

Clausen was 17 of 24 passing with five drops, meaning he should have been 22 of 24. Ainge was 5 of 14 with one drop.

* Tennessee's defense was called for a delay of game because of using ``disconcerting signals,'' according to referee Al Ford.

That means the defense was barking out signals that were close to the offensive calls - an illegal act considering it could cause a motion penalty by the offense.

Tennessee's defense was called for this penalty at least twice during scrimmages.

* It's hard to tell if Tennessee's offense was poor or UAB's defense was much improved. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

While the Vols probably left a couple of touchdowns on the table because of self-inflicted wounds, UAB did surrender 59 points to Hawaii and Tulane. Those two teams passed for more than 400 yards on the Blazers and four other teams - including Army - passed for more than 300 yards.

* While I thought Jason Allen's tackle total would decrease significantly when he moved from safety to cornerback, he led the Vols with 13 tackles in the opener. He led the SEC with 123 tackles last year.

Allen's was UT's best player against UAB.

* You wonder if Florida will emulate UAB's defensive game plan.

The Blazers played a two-deep zone, keep the passing game underneath and took advantage of the Vols dropping passes and throwing interceptions. While the Vols had six drives of at least six plays, several ended with mistakes.

UAB coaches were surprised the Vols were unable to run against seven men in the box and a two-deep zone.


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