Volunteers get past Fresno St.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
KNOXVILLE -- Against a Fresno State squad poised for an upset, the Tennessee Volunteers played a shifty game Saturday afternoon.
The Vols used a solid 161-yard rushing performance from Cedric Houston to overcome a lackluster performance in the passing game and held a team to negative rushing yards for the first time since 1998 to pull away with a 24-6 victory at Neyland Stadium.
"I was really glad to get this win," said Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer. "Fresno State gave a good effort out there today. We should've knocked them out early. It's a building block at this point and we will get better in areas.
"We ran the ball well and we had the opportunity for longer runs. We've got work to do in the passing game. Casey did not play very well today. He ran the team well even though he didn't throw it well."
It was the first time since 1974 that a home opener at Tennessee wasn't sold out, saying something about the lack of fan enthusiasm into this year. However, the squad was glad to get their first win under their belt.
"I'm just really proud of our team today," said offensive tackle Michael Munoz, whose unit paved the way for 291 total rushing yards in the contest. "We came out as the first game of the season and really worked hard to minimize mistakes and took care of business. I think that we really made an emphisis to be more physical in the off-season, the guys were running incredibly hard and you love blocking for them."
The Vols scored three touchdowns in the game, two passing strikes from Clausen and a long 44-yard dash from Jabari Davis. Fresno State's lone score came in the fourth quarter after Richard Marshall picked off Clausen and returned it 81 yards the other way.
"Our kids played hard and didn't fold," said Fresno State coach Pat Hill. "We had our chances and didn't get it done. We're not on the same level personnel-wise with Tennessee, particularly on the road. The defense played well enough to keep us in the game."
The Vols opened things up with an 8-play, 76 yard drive that featured some big completions from Clausen to Banks. A 38-yard completion set up the 9-yard Banks score, putting Tennessee up 7-0.
Tennessee got the ball back rather quickly and took off with gains of 25, 13 and 20 for Houston. It put the team in field goal position, but James Wilhoit missed a 31-yarder.
They bounced back in their first drive of the second quarter when Davis utilized his first run of the game, scoring on a 44-yard run to give the squad a 14-0 edge.
Defensively, the Orange and White didn't give Fresno State a first down or allow them inside the red zone until their second drive of the second quarter, when Jeff Grady touched Stephen Spach with a 31-yard pass. Tenacious pressure was put on the Bulldog offense at that point, as two incomplete passes with an intentional grounding penalty stacked the odds against them.
Constantin Ritzman then hammered Grady for a seven-yard loss, forcing a field goal attempt from Brett Visintainer, who in turn pooch kicked it. Neither team scored from that point on giving Tennessee the 14-0 lead into the second half.
It took a long drive in the third quarter to give the Vols another scoring opportunity. Houston powered the ball into scoring territory with some Clausen completions, but Wilhoit missed a 34-yard field goal.
A shanked five-yard punt on Fresno State's next possession was a gift Tennessee gladly accepted.
Gerald Riggs roared through the Bulldog defense with a 21-yard gain, setting up a five-yard touchdown strike from Clausen to Brown which put the Vols up 21-0.
Mark Jones returned a punt 29 yards to open the fourth quarter, but the offense had to rely on Wilhoit again for a scoring opportunity. He came through this time with a 40-yard field goal.
Davis and Corey Larkins made some short rushes to push Tennessee closer towards another scoring chance on its next fourth-quarter drive. However, Clausen was picked off by Fresno State's Marshall, who jetted 81 yards down the field to give Fresno State their first score of the game. Neither team would add any points from that period on.
Grady wound up with 118 yards on 13 completions in place of Bulldog starting quarterback Paul Pinegar. Rodney Davis led the squad in rushing with 21 yards on 13 carries.
"We didn't get anything going all day," Grady added. "They pretty much shut us down from the get go. We had opportunities and they didn't do anything different defensively than we expected. We knew what they were going to do schematically and we were fine. We just didn't make the plays."
"That was a concern coming in that the front four wasn't going to get enough pressure on the quarterback," added Volunteer linebacker Kevin Simon, who led the team with five tackles, on the teams defensive performance. "The cornerbacks did what they were supposed to do, so the defense held their end of the bargain."
Although Fresno State played Tennessee a close contest, its players weren't thrilled about their performance in the game.
"I feel we should have played harder," said Marshall. "I am not happy about the outcome of the game. I know I scored but this is a team game."
Davis added 86 yards rushing to the Volunteer cause, while Banks led the receiving core with 80 yards. Houston's overall total of 161 was a career high and possibly a sign of good things to come.
"I've got to give all the credit to the offensive line and Troy Fleming because they did a very good job out there blocking the whole game," he added. "I just tried to run hard and take care of the football."