First games are unpredictable by their very nature. Every team features new players and new starters that haven't played in game competition in at least nine months — 21 months in the case of redshirt freshmen — and have never played together as a team or unit.
Appalachian State's shocking victory over Michigan at the Big House could probably only happen in a season opener. Play that game at any other position on the schedule and the Wolverines prevail.
That's not the case with Tennessee and Cal, as the Golden Bears were the better team. That's not surprising. What's shocking is that Cal appeared both faster and tougher, two hallmarks of Tennessee football, than the Vols.
Clearly the bright spot was the offense which produced points in every quarter and kept Tennessee in the game. It remains to be seen how good Cal's defense is, which means the Vols' offensive performance can only be fully evaluated deeper into the fall, but there were standouts that earned recognition.
QUARTERBACK (88) Eric Ainge operated the no-huddle effectively and worked the clock without haste or waste. Despite a fractured pinky his passing was accurate and he went through his progressions like the seasoned veteran he is. He can't be blamed for fumbling the ball when sacked from behind but with the pocket collapsing he would have been well advised not to reload. If you can't throw it away on your first pump, secure it. He also fumbled a hand off exchange that looked shaky. However it's hard to argue with 32 of 47 for 271 yards, three touchdowns and no INTs without the benefit of a go-to receiver.
RECEIVERS (83) The non-established starters — Austin Rogers, Lucas Taylor and Chris Brown — played better than expected but the Vols got nothing from star recruits Kenny O'Neal and Brent Vinson. Lucas a career best six catches for 103 yards with a long of 43 yards. Rogers and junior Josh Briscoe also had six receptions each for 38 and 39 yards respectively. Brown had seven catches for 54 yards and a pair of touchdowns. What they lacked in big plays they made up for in consistency and reliability. LINEMEN (82) A great job of protecting the passer, the line often provided five seconds or more for Ainge to locate an open receiver. However the front didn't knock a smaller D-line off the ball and the ground game ground to a halt in the second half, as the Vols finished with 111 yards on 27 carries. That total was inflated by a 42-yard gallop by Arian Foster while the other 26 carries netted only 69 yards. For a group that had worked to become more physical during the off season it wasn't the result that was expected.
RUNNING BACKS (79) It would be more accurate to give Foster a 90 and the rest of the group a 59. Returning to his home state, Foster gained 89 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown, and also caught a 12-yard TD pass. The only other contributor was Montario Hardesty who finished with 27 yards on nine carries. Hardesty has plenty of raw talent but needs to let his eyes lead him more than his legs. The lack of a blocking fullback limited UT in the red zone. LaMarcus Coker's return should be a considerable boost.
OVERALL (83) Certainly 382 yards and 31 points is plenty of offensive punch, but the offense only produced 14 yards and a field goal in the fourth quarter. Plus the early turnover that was converted into a TD was a critical play in the contest. A lot of positives and room for improvement.