KNOXVILLE - Two head coaches and dozens of talented players have left the University of Tennessee football program since Sept. 2, 2006.
But six current scholarship Volunteers remember standing on the sideline in Neyland Stadium as redshirts that sun-soaked afternoon, watching their underdog teammates throttle a top-10 opponent from the Pac-10.
Punter Chad Cunningham, middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, guard Jarrod Shaw, tight end Luke Stocker, defensive tackle Victor Thomas and strongside linebacker LaMarcus Thompson remember UT's 35-18 victory over ninth-ranked California like it happened yesterday.
Reveiz, now a team captain, smiled and simply said that afternoon "was a whole of fun."
"It was a good day," Thompson added. "A real good day."
The Vols (1-0) hope for a similar effort tonight, when they'll host seventh-ranked Oregon (1-0).
"If we could do something like that again, man, that would be really special," Thompson said.
But how will the Vols do that? As with anything else, there's a formula.
UT needs a raucous home crowd like the one that intimidated California that day.
"It was an electric atmosphere," Thompson said. "I would love to have that kind of crowd again. I hope they bring that noise again."
The Vols also need a strong start. Defensive end Robert Ayers sent Cal an early message in 2006, knocking out a tight end on the opening kickoff. UT then led 7-0 after the first quarter, 14-0 at halftime and 35-0 midway through the third quarter.
"Really, the biggest thing for us is coming out in the first quarter and setting the tempo for the whole game," Shaw said. "A great start is always key."
Even if the Vols start quickly, though, they must finish. And they must at least force a stalemate on special teams.
Containing All-America-caliber return specialists such as Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Cliff Harris is a tough task, but the 2006 Cal Bears had future NFL stars DeSean Jackson and Marshawn Lynch returning punts and kickoffs.
Jackson averaged 5.3 yards on three punt returns against the Vols that day, and Lynch averaged a mediocre 22.5 yards on two kick returns.
"If those [Oregon] guys get by you, you're probably not going to catch them," Thompson said. "Obviously, we need to do whatever we have to do to keep them in front of us."
The Vols must do a few more things as well. They must rattle Oregon sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas like they rattled Cal's Nate Longshore, whose day was done before the fourth quarter after completing just 11 of 20 passes for 85 yards and an interception.
The Vols must get Oregon off the field on third down, much as they did to Cal (4-for-16). They must not lose the turnover battle, like they didn't in a 2-2 tie with Cal.
"If there's a more explosive offense in the country ... I don't know if there's a more explosive one," first-year UT head coach Derek Dooley said. "Nobody ever stops them. You've just got to slow them down and try to be sound fundamentally and try to get some breaks here and there, and you've got to play well on offense."
Cal is not Oregon. The 2010 Vols are not the 2006 Vols. UT probably isn't as talented as it was that season, and it's certainly not as deep.
But the underdog checklist never changes. Neither does the chance to replace a bad memory with a day you'll never forget.
The 2006 Vols, coming off a 5-6 season, upset a top-10 opponent before winning nine games and playing in a New Year's Day bowl game.
UT can start down the same path tonight.
"It would definitely boost us," Reveiz said. "I feel like there is a lot of pressure on Oregon since they are a highly ranked team and people are really not expecting a lot out of us. We are going to play hard and play physical.
"We are looking forward to the opportunity."
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