Can UT go out with a bang?

The last part of a sumptuous meal is a tasty dessert. The last part of a boxing card is an intriguing main event. The last part of a movie is the dramatic climax. The last part of a concert is the performer's signature song.

Saving the best for last is an American tradition. Tennessee's football team broke with tradition in 2006, however. The Vols played by far their best game in the opener against California. They piled up a season-high 216 rushing yards. They threw a season-high four touchdown passes. They shut down the Golden Bear attack for three quarters. They dominated a nationally ranked foe and led 35-0 before calling off the dogs and settling for a 35-18 victory.

What got into the Vols that night? Well, it was more like what got OUT of them – all of the frustration left by their 5-6 record the previous year.

"The California game was a great high for me because everybody had this burning feeling inside their stomach," senior offensive tackle Arron Sears recalls. "Five-and-six, five-and-six ... that's all we'd been hearing about."

When the Vols took the field against Cal, they weren't just looking to open the season with a win. They were looking to open the season with a win so imposing that 2005 would become a faded memory.

"Getting out there and getting that win to get the season rolling was great," Sears recalls with a big smile.

Given how impressive the Vols were in their 2006 debut, reproducing such a performance would prove difficult ... perhaps impossible. They played well in a few other games – shredding Georgia's defense en route to a 51-33 win in Athens and outclassing a pesky Vanderbilt team 39-10 in Nashville – but they never really approached the level of intensity and execution they achieved in Game 1.

Now, with the season reduced to Monday's Outback Bowl game against Penn State, Tennessee has one final chance to match the peak it achieved in the opener four months ago. The players are healthier and more rested than they've been at any time since Game 1, so perhaps the Big Orange season will go out the same way it came in ... with a bang.

Nothing would make Sears happier.

"Maybe," he says, "we can put another game together on the offensive side like we did against Cal."

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