By ELIZABETH A. DAVIS
The Associated Press
Saturday, September 30, 2006; 4:54 PM
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Everything seemed harder for Tennessee last year, including its win over cross-state rival Memphis. This is a new season.
Erik Ainge threw four touchdown passes and the 15th-ranked Volunteers had an easy time beating Memphis 41-7 on Saturday.
A year ago, Tennessee (4-1) had to rally for a 20-16 victory over the Tigers in one of the many low points of a 5-6 season that featured one of the worst offenses in the country.
"Our receivers making some big plays was a big part of the score and the game," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I just thought we were more balanced as an offensive team."
Ainge, pulled early in the fourth quarter, completed 23 of 27 passes for 324 yards, including two TD tosses to Jayson Swain and an 84-yarder to Robert Meachem. His other scoring pass was a 7-yarder to Bret Smith.
"I thought it took me a little bit to get settled in. After we did that, as good as everyone else on this team was playing, it made it pretty easy," said Ainge, who was benched last year against Memphis after starting.
Tennessee returns to Southeastern Conference play next week at No. 10 Georgia.
The Tigers (1-3) had last week off to prepare for the Vols, but struggled all day. The Tigers' highlight was punter Michael Gibson pinning Tennessee inside its own 5 three times.
Memphis' new defense didn't fool the Vols as coach Tommy West had hoped. West, a former Tennessee tight end, fired defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn after a loss at East Carolina two weeks ago and changed the scheme to a conventional four-man front.
"We got whipped physically, and we got manhandled," West said. "I don't like it, but it's over and done."
LaMarcus Coker added 125 yards on 26 carries in his first start for the Vols. Arian Foster missed the game with a sprained left ankle.
Tennessee had its first blowout against Memphis since 2001, and it was the largest margin of victory since a 55-16 win in 1969. The games have been close since Memphis' lone win, 21-17, in 1996.
The Tigers finished with 121 yards of total offense _ the least allowed by the Vols since Fresno State had 117 in 2003.
Tennessee had 566 total yards and converted 11 of 16 third downs.
The Vols opened the second half with a scoring drive capped by Swain's 51-yard TD reception for a 20-0 lead. Swain caught the pass along the sideline behind his defender and ran across the field to score.
After Memphis punted, Tennessee started at its own 3 and needed just five plays before Meachem's score.
Meachem leaped to catch the ball and kept running but was crowded on the sideline. Smith pushed two defenders out of the way, and Meachem ran untouched to the end zone.
"I knew there was a chance it would be like this," West said. "We were playing the No. 15 team in the country and they're good. Make no mistake. That's the same team that routed the No. 9 team in the country."
The Vols opened the season with a 35-18 win over California.
Memphis' defense was able to keep Tennessee out of the end zone late in the third quarter when the Vols tried to run four straight times from the 1. But Tennessee came back on its next series and scored with Smith's diving catch at the goal line.
Trailing 3-0, Memphis had an interception returned for a touchdown erased by an offsides penalty in the first quarter. Quinton McCrary jumped in front of a pass by Ainge up the middle and returned it 38 yards.
Tennessee continued the 17-play drive that bridged the first two quarters and went ahead 10-0 on Ainge's 5-yard pass to Swain. Ainge rolled out to the right and was being backed up along the sideline when he finally threw it to his left to Swain in the back of the end zone.
"I don't think it makes a difference," Fulmer said when asked if the interception had counted.
The Tigers' starting running back Joseph Doss was suspended for the first half because he was late to a pre-game meeting. Doss said he normally uses his cell phone as an alarm clock but couldn't after he dropped the phone in the toilet.
Doss ran for 77 yards against Tennessee last year in place of DeAngelo Williams, but he had only 13 yards on Saturday.
James Wilhoit added field goals of 28 and 49 yards for Tennessee. David Yancey ran 10 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The Vols were looking for their first shutout since a 48-0 victory over Vanderbilt in 2003, but Memphis took advantage of a fumble by Tennessee reserves. Martin Hankins completed a 21-yard TD pass to Duke Calhoun with 3:44 remaining.