By the time the Memphis game rolled around, the 2005 Volunteer football team, which had just lost four games in a row, was drawing comparisons to the 1988 team that started the season 0-6. Even the Tigers from the other end of the state, who hated the Volunteers with a passion normally reserved for rival Ole Miss, were smelling blood.
Fortunately for the Vols, history was dressed in orange, even under these circumstances:
”As we approached the game site, fans of the Memphis State Tigers lined the street and chanted “Oh-and-six! Oh-and-six! Oh-and-six!” The Vols limped into that ’88 game with an 0-6 record, so MSU’s players and fans were drooling at the prospect of posting their first win in series history. UT had won the previous 11 meetings but this Tennessee team appeared terribly vulnerable. The defense was so bad that coordinator Ken Donahue had resigned one game earlier.”
Vol fans chanted “Oh-and-twelve!” after beating the Tigers 38-25.
Surely even the reeling Vols could beat a three touchdown underdog starting a 4th string quarterback and playing without their Heisman-contending running back in Neyland Stadium.
They almost couldn’t. Erik Ainge got the start and played his worst game since LSU. His first pass was almost intercepted. His third pass was intercepted and returned 37 yards to the UT 25. His fourth pass was intercepted but was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty against Memphis. Barely into the second quarter, Memphis was ahead 13-0.
In came Rick Clausen, who once again ralled the team. On Clausen’s second series, actually connected with wide receiver Josh Briscoe for a 39-yard touchdown pass. On his next series, he led the team on a ten-play, 94-yard drive and capped it off with another touchdown pass, this one to C.J. Fayton.
Clausen guided the team to victory, going 14 of 24 for 209 yards.
Even the special teams got into the action, contributing a 36-yard punt return by Jonathan Hefney.
John Pennington on Tennessee Volunteer Quarterback Erik Ainge:
I have said for a couple of weeks that UT should turn the season over to Erik Ainge. “Ainge has more upside.” “Ainge will be back next year.” “If UT doesn’t want another QB controversy next year, they’d better see as much of Ainge as they can between now and the end of the season.”
Well, as Gilda Radner used to say, “Nevermind.”
All of the reasons for playing Ainge still hold true. Except for the last one. The coaches, after just 4 passes vs Memphis (and an almost carbon copy of his LSU start) should have already seen enough of Ainge to know what they’re dealing with:
A very fundamentally-flawed headcase.
Poor decisions come with 19-year-old QBs who’ve only started and completed 2 games. That’s part of growing up. Not every Vol QB is going to have Peyton Manning’s learning curve.
But terrible fundamentals on top of the mental errors can’t be accepted. A dumb pass might just be a dumb pass if it’s thrown well. A dumb pass thrown by someone who no longer even tries to set his feet… well, that’s death.
Of Ainge’s 4 passes vs Memphis, three times he failed to set his feet before throwing the ball (this includes the non-interception that was brought back due to a questionable “roughing the passer” call). On the other pass, the long, floating duck-like INT, Ainge had someone laying at his feet. So he couldn’t step into the pass. Rather than realizing this, he relied on that big arm of his and shotput a ball 25 yards down field.
Jimmy Hyams says UT must play Rick Clausen, not only in order to win, but to help Ainge recover:
So now what do you do if you’re Fulmer?
You hand the keys to Clausen. He has proven he can beat mediocre teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He did it last year. He did it against Memphis.
You shut down Ainge. If you’ve got the shanks, stay away from the golf course for a few weeks or a few months. Don’t destroy Ainge’s confidence any longer.
Let your new offensive coordinator try to dig Ainge out of his dilemma.
But don’t let Ainge continue to bury himself, his confidence and his team.
But Pennington believes that Clausen won’t be able to beat Vanderbilt or Kentucky unless they’re dumb enough to blitz him.
Indeed, what do you do if you’re Fulmer?
Prepare for Vandy.