An up-and-down season

A Tennessee football season that began with an unexpectedly easy defeat of California ended three months later with an unexpectedly difficult defeat of Kentucky. In between the Vols experienced more ups and downs than a hotel elevator.

The ups:

- Jumping to a 35-0 lead on favored California in the season opener.

- Watching LaMarcus Coker break loose for 146 yards on just eight carries in Game 4 vs. Marshall.

- Limiting Memphis to 121 yards of total offense in Game 5.

- Overcoming a 24-14 halftime deficit by outscoring Georgia 37-9 in the second half in Game 6.

- Having Jonathan Hefney emerge as a quality punt-return specialist (12.8 yards per runback on average).

- Seeing Robert Meachem finally live up to his hype by catching 67 passes for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns.

- Watching Erik Ainge bounce back from a horrendous 2005 season to complete 66.9 percent of his passes for 2,722 yards and 19 touchdowns.

- Having James Wilhoit hit 17 of 20 field-goal tries and Britton Colquitt average 45 yards per punt.

The downs:

- Losing first-team defensive tackle Justin Harrell and first-team cornerback Inquoris Johnson to Game 2 injuries.

- Being limited to minus-11 rushing yards in a 21-20 home-field loss to Florida.

- Giving up a punt return for touchdown and a kickoff return for touchdown at Georgia.

- Surrendering the game-winning touchdown pass with nine seconds left in a 28-24 home-field loss to LSU.

- Getting taken to the woodshed in a lopsided loss at Arkansas.

- Scoring just two touchdowns against the NCAA's worst defense in the regular-season finale vs. Kentucky.

- The ongoing ineptitude of the kickoff return team.

Tennessee's 9-3 finish represents a significant improvement over its 5-6 mark of 2005. The Vols won four games convincingly – beating Cal 35-18 in Game 1, beating Marshall 33-7 in Game 4, beating Memphis 41-7 in Game 5 and beating Vanderbilt 39-10 in Game 11. They overcame a lousy first half to beat Georgia 51-33 but could not overcome an even lousier first half in a 31-14 loss to Arkansas.

The other six games were decided by a touchdown or less. Tennessee won nail-biters against Air Force (31-30), Alabama (16-13), South Carolina (31-24) and Kentucky (17-12) but lost thrillers to Florida (21-20) and LSU (28-24).

Bottom line: The Vols were rarely impressive but they were usually resourceful.

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