Humbled beginnings

It's easy to blame the woeful performance in Tennessee's Game 1 loss at UCLA on a new quarterback, a new scheme and a new offensive coordinator. Easy ... but probably not accurate.

The Vols gave an equally inept performance in Game 1 of 2007, when they had a four-year starter at quarterback (Erik Ainge), a well-worn scheme and a veteran offensive coordinator (David Cutcliffe).

In fact, with the exception of 2001 and 2004, the Big Orange has been the Big Flop in early season games the past few years.

Consider recent history:

2000: The 13th-ranked Vols stumble, bumble and fumble their way to a 19-16 defeat of Southern Miss in Game 1. After losing Game 2 at home to Florida, they annihilate a hapless Louisiana-Monroe team, then lose at LSU and at Georgia to stand 2-3 after five games. The team jells at this point, winning six straight to finish the regular season 8-3.

2001: No slow start here. The Vols trounce Syracuse 33-9 en route to a 3-0 September.

2002: After sleepwalking past lowly Wyoming and Middle Tennessee, the Vols are hammered on their home field in Game 3 by a Ron Zook-coached Florida team 30-13.

2003: Though less than impressive, the Vols beat Fresno State (24-6), Marshall (34-24), Florida (24-10) and South Carolina (23-20 in overtime) to finish September 4-0. They lose their first two games in October, however, to Auburn (28-21) and Georgia (41-14).

2004: No bad start here, either. Tennessee starts 3-0 before getting drilled 34-10 by a superior Auburn team that was on its way to a 13-0 season.

2005: The Vols look awful in a 17-10 Game 1 defeat of lowly UAB, then show no offensive spark at all in a 16-7 Game 2 loss at Florida.

2006: Tennessee rolls to a 35-18 defeat of Cal in the opener but goes embarrassingly flat in a 31-30 Game 2 defeat of Air Force.

2007: The Vols allow a 44-yard fumble return and a 77-yard punt return in a 45-31 loss to California. After beating a mediocre Southern Miss squad 39-19, Tennessee is crushed by Florida 59-20.

2008: A blocked punt returned for a touchdown, erratic pass protection, a fumble at the UCLA 6-yard line and a fourth-quarter defensive meltdown cost Tennessee dearly in a 27-24 overtime loss to an outmanned Bruin squad.

Through the years the Vols have made an inordinate number of mistakes in opening games. Head coach Phillip Fulmer conceded that there was a rash of mistakes – mental and physical – in the '08 opener. Questioned about which proved more costly, he replied "Both."

When asked which type of miscue is easier to fix, he answered: "You can correct both of them but there were some mistakes that shouldn't have happened."

Fulmer was especially upset with some miscues that he said made him wonder "Were they really listening?" during the teaching process.

"Some of them maybe were youthful mistakes," he added. "We'll get better from it. It's behind us now. If we learn a lesson from it it'll be worth it at some point. Hopefully, we did."

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