Who starts: Ainge or Schaeffer?

Reporters wondering who'll start at quarterback for Tennessee in Saturday's game against Auburn left Tuesday's media day still wondering. Some comments from offensive coordinator Randy Sanders suggested Erik Ainge will make his first college start. Other comments, however, suggested Brent Schaeffer will retain the starting job.

Asked point-blank if the Vols will go with the same rotation they used in the first three games -- Schaeffer for two series, then Ainge for two -- Sanders shrugged.

''Coach Fulmer and I haven't talked about it in-depth or made any decisions,'' the coordinator said. ''I've talked with both of them. They're still co-starters. Whoever gets the first snap really doesn't matter to me. I HOPE it doesn't matter to them. I think it matters a whole lot more maybe to the fans and the media than it does to the football team.''

After watching the first two series, Ainge has come off the bench to lead a touchdown drive on his first possession three games in a row. Whether he could be that productive out of the starting gate is anyone's guess.

''I don't know that you know that until you clip the rose and see how it all works out,'' Sanders said. ''I thought Brent did a nice job (on the first two series of the Louisiana Tech game). Brent was kind of unfortunate that some things went on those first two series that weren't necessarily his fault. When Erik came in, it seemed like things just started clicking.''

Indeed. Ainge's first play was a handoff to Cedric Houston, who raced 36 yards. Ainge's second play was another handoff to Houston, who rambled 37 yards to score. So, even though Tennessee scored on Ainge's first series, his contribution was minimal.

Sanders said Ainge trotted to the sidelines after his two handoffs and wisecracked: ''Whew! I need to catch my breath.''

While Ainge's contribution on Tennessee's first scoring drive was modest, he contributed plenty in guiding the Vols to three more first-half touchdowns. That was pretty impressive.

''The team got hot while he was in there,'' Sanders said. ''Whether it was what Erik did or what the rest of the team did, I don't know. But Erik certainly reaped the benefits of it.''

Whether Ainge or Schaeffer starts Saturday's game, it's a safe bet that the non-starter will see considerable action, as well.

''They're both good football players, and I think they both need each other,'' Sanders said. ''I don't think either one of them's ready to go out there and completely manage the game by themselves. Playing 30, 35, 40 plays (each) is probably about right for them right now.''


Inside Tennessee Top Stories