Aug 30, 2003
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer got a sneak peek of his team's potential.
The No. 12 Volunteers improved from the last game they played in, but Fulmer believes some changes will be needed to make them even better.
"We could have knocked them and should have knocked them out quicker than we did," Fulmer said.
The Vols were determined to show an improved offense from the one that sputtered last year to an 8-5 record, which included an embarrassing 30-3 loss to Maryland in the Peach Bowl.
Tennessee racked up 433 yards of total offense, the most since a six-overtime win over Arkansas last October, and 274 yards rushing behind a stronger and healthy offensive line.
But there were some mistakes that could have led to more points. James Wilhoit missed field goals of 30 and 34 yards, and Richard Marshall returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Awan Diles intercepted another pass by Clausen in the first quarter, but Fresno State could not convert the turnover into points. Clausen finished 18-of-31 for 159 yards and did not seem to play as effectively as in previous games.
We could have knocked them and should have knocked them out quicker than we did.
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer
Cedric Houston led Tennessee with 161 yards on 19 rushes.
"I think on a couple of runs I should have scored," Houston said.
James Banks had seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown to lead the receivers, who were criticized last season for not making big plays.
Fresno State was expected to be a formidable opponent considering the Bulldogs are used to playing teams from BCS conferences in season openers.
Fresno State, which beat Georgia Tech in last year's Silicon Valley Bowl, defeated Colorado in the 2001 season opener but lost to Ohio State in 2000 and Wisconsin last year.
The Bulldogs were not intimidated.
"It could have been 35-42 points if they had not bowed their necks," he said. "They played tough when we got down close (to the end zone)."
Tennessee seemed to have an answer for everything Fresno State tried on offense, holding it to minus-1 yards rushing and 117 yards of total offense.
Fresno State's Rodney Davis had a school-record 1,586 yards rushing last season but was held to 16 yards on 13 carries Saturday.
Fresno State's Jeff Grady, who replaced an injured Paul Pinegar at quarterback, was sacked three times and went 13-of-24 for 118 yards.
"Tennessee controlled the line of scrimmage," Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. "We had only one of eight offensive linemen who played in a Division I game. Jeff Grady was thrown off his heels a lot."
Tennessee scored on its opening drive when Banks caught a short pass from Clausen across the middle and ran 9 yards for a touchdown.
The Vols went up 14-0 in the second quarter after Davis got open up the middle and sped down the field for a 44-yard touchdown run.
Tony Brown went up on tip toes to catch a 5-yard pass from Clausen in the end zone to put Tennessee ahead 21-0 at the end of the third quarter.
Wilhoit made up for his misses with a 40-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Several players were playing for the first time since last year following season-ending injuries.
Fresno State's highly touted receiver, Bernard Berrian, was held to three catches for 28 yards. Meanwhile, Tennessee's Constantin Ritzmann was credited with a sack, and linebackers Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett got in on the other.
Coming off the disappointing season, Tennessee did not sell out its home opener for the first time since 1974. The attendance was 103,860 in Neyland Stadium, where crowds normally exceed the 104,079 capacity and top 107,000.