Frosh QBs Excite Sanders

You don't have to be Stephen King to appreciate suspense. Just ask Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. Like Vol fans, he's eager to watch two unproven freshmen -- Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer -- share the quarterback duties in Sunday night's season opener. Facing the unknown is a powerful adrenalin rush, especially when your job is on the line.

''As coaches, we all kind of like to know what we're getting ready to get,'' Sanders said with a laugh. ''But there is a lot of excitement. I'm anxious to see how they're going to do. They're going to make mistakes; there's no way around it. Even seniors make mistakes.

''But I expect them to do a lot of good things. My biggest concern is that they not go out there and feel like they need to win the game by themselves.''

Asked for probably the hundredth time which freshman will start Sunday's opener vs. Nevada-Las Vegas, Sanders essentially said it doesn't matter because both will play.

''We've got two guys who are pretty equal,'' he said. ''One of them obviously has got to take the first snap, so we've got to figure out who'll get the first snap, then who'll come in after that.''

The coordinator said he expects to make a decision on which QB will take the first snap ''in the next day or so.''

The delay in naming a starter could be viewed as a ploy designed to confuse UNLV's defensive coordinator. Sanders said this isn't the case. He and Vol head man Phillip Fulmer simply haven't determined which quarterback deserves the opening call. Sanders reiterated, however, that who starts is no big deal.

''I don't think it matters as much to them or the team as it would if you had a competition where one of them was going to play 80 percent of the time and the other one 20,'' Sanders said. ''I see it (playing time) being split pretty equal.''

Whichever QB starts, Sanders expects the other to see action early.

''I would expect by the third series,'' the coordinator said. ''But if one of 'em is in there and we go down the field and score the first two times, he may play again. Our No. 1 priority is to win the game, obviously.... Both of them doing what they do well probably gives us our best opportunity to win.''

Informed that no true freshman has ever started a season opener at quarterback for an SEC team, Sanders shrugged.

''I wasn't aware of that,'' he said. ''But we've always said that whoever gives us the best chance to win is going to be the one we're going to play.''

The coordinator said Tennessee was on the verge of using a true freshman at quarterback in the 2000 opener until Casey Clausen hurt his shoulder mere weeks before the season began. With Clausen recovering, sophomore Joey Matthews got the Game 1 start. He gave way to A.J. Suggs in Game 2, who eventually gave way to Clausen in Game 6.

Sanders admitted that he has done more ''back-to-basics coaching'' this fall in an effort to get Schaeffer and Ainge ready for Game 1. Still, he is confident both will perform adequately.

''I don't think either one of them is going to go out there and have that deer-in-the-headlights look,'' Sanders said. ''I don't think they'll freeze.... They're very poised, very mature for their age.''

Still, they ARE true freshmen and more prone to mistakes than a veteran would be. That's why Sanders expects UNLV to put pressure on them early and often Sunday night.

''If I were UNLV -- knowing we're playing freshmen at quarterback -- I'd be planning on blitzing, seeing how they handle the pressure,'' he said. ''I expect 'em to come after them, try to rattle them, try to give them the big eyes.''

Although Schaeffer's mobility gives him a better chance to avoid the rush, Sanders expressed confidence that Ainge can handle the pass rush, as well.

''Brent's elusiveness gives him the ability to do that,'' the coordinator said. ''But Erik is pretty aware of what's going on, so he may be able to get the blitzes blocked or recognize the blitzes and get rid of the ball a little bit better than Brent. They both pose their own problems.''

Sanders said the playbook has been scaled down to ''around 80 plays'' for each quarterback. More accurately, there are roughly 15-20 plays that can be run from perhaps four or five different alignments. In addition, the freshmen will not be asked to change plays at the line of scrimmage.

''We have to identify what (play) is going to work,'' Sanders said. ''And, once we get it into the game, that's pretty much what we have to hang our hat on.'' S


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