QBs' poise amazes Sanders

Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has been pleasantly surprised by the strong arms and quick feet exhibited by freshman quarterbacks Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge. He has been pleasantly surprised by their maturity. He has been pleasantly surprised by their quickness to grasp the offense. He has been pleasantly surprised by their decision-making.

Yet his most pleasant surprise to date is none of the above.

''I'm amazed at their poise and composure,'' Sanders said.

Those attributes were never more evident than last Saturday night, when Schaeffer and Ainge guided the Vols to a 30-28 defeat of Florida before 109,061 fans and a national TV audience in a deafening, pressure-packed atmosphere at Neyland Stadium.

''Saturday night may have been the loudest game I've ever been around -- definitely in Knoxville but maybe ANYWHERE,'' Sanders said. ''That was just a loud stadium. It was hard to just talk on the sidelines.''

The coordinator said the noise was so overpowering that Jim Bob Cooter and Rick Clausen -- two veteran QBs who relay signals to the huddle between plays -- had difficulty handling their assignments.

''They had a hard time hearing me call the plays,'' Sanders said, ''and I was over there screaming on the sidelines ... no farther from them than I am from you (roughly two feet).''

Although Tennessee had to burn a couple of timeouts to avert play-clock violations, the coordinator said these also could be traced to the crowd noise. Each time the quarterback's original audible could not be heard.

''Instead of telling the right side, the left side and the back, sometimes you had to tell the right side TWICE, the left side TWICE and the back had a harder time hearing it,'' Sanders said. ''We had to repeat ourselves a little bit more than we wanted to.''

Tennessee's rookie QBs had a couple of botched snaps but Sanders says crowd noise contributed to these, as well.

''Really, the two snap problems we had were because the center couldn't hear the quarterback clearly,'' he said.

Despite the noise problems, Ainge directed three fourth-quarter scoring drives to beat the Gators. The first two drives produced TDs, the third one produced the game-winning field goal.

Schaeffer did not see action in the final quarter, fueling speculation that he will give way to Ainge whenever the Vols have a deficit to overcome. This is a gross oversimplification. So is the idea that Ainge is strictly a pocket passer and Schaeffer is strictly a scrambler. Ainge has surprisingly quick feet for a 6-6, 200-pounder, although he generally uses his feet to buy time rather than to scramble. And Schaeffer is an excellent passer, although his most memorable plays to date have been made with his feet and not his arm.

''Brent can throw the ball really well, too,'' Sanders said. ''The offense just seemed to have a little bit of a spark right there (at the end) with Erik in there. And Erik had a really good look in his eye. It was a situation where everybody felt comfortable with him -- players and coaches. It was nothing againt Brent or how he was doing. It was just what we thought we needed to do.''

Sanders conceded that he was ''impressed'' with Ainge's late-game performance vs. the Gators.

''The guy sees well, and the game doesn't happen too fast for him,'' the coordinator said. ''Sometimes the game just happens fast and it's like you're not seeing things good. You're seeing blurs. For him in the second half, it seemed like the game was going in slow motion.''

When asked if Ainge earned the starting nod for this Saturday's game against Louisiana Tech with his sterling play against Florida, Sanders deftly ducked the question.

''I don't know that anything has really changed, as far as the starter status,'' he said. ''Whether Brent or Erik gets the first snap is not a factor. They're still co-starters. Erik did a nice job there at the end of the game; Brent did a lot of good things up to that point. I don't think either one of them has played his way into getting more playing time than the other and I don't think either of them has played his way OUT of playing time. It's still a co-starter deal.''

Both freshmen have been remarkably effective. Ainge has a passer efficiency rating of 162.29 with five touchdown passes and only one interception. Schaeffer has a passer efficiency rating of 192.80 with one touchdown pass and zero interceptions. To put that in perspective, senior quarterback Casey Clausen had an efficiency rating of 134.32 last season. Schaeffer has fumbled twice but those are not reflected in his passer rating.

''They've done a good job taking care of the football for the most part,'' Sanders said of Schaeffer and Ainge. ''They're not throwing it to the other team. They're making good decisions. I think it says a lot about our receivers, running backs and tight ends: They're catching the ball. We're not dropping passes, so that's a tribute to all of those factors. And they're getting time to throw. They're not having to throw it away because they don't have time to see what's going on.''


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