Vols one step closer to SEC championship game

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The Tennessee two-quarterback system is no more.

Freshman Brent Schaeffer, who gave a sluggish Volunteer offense a spark when it most needed it on Saturday, suffered a broken collarbone in the third quarter of the Vols‚ 43-29 victory.

Although his numbers weren't impressive, Schaeffer completed a crucial third-down pass on Tennessee‚s scoring drive at the end of the first half and ran in a two-point conversion, following an Eric Ainge to David Holbert touchdown throw, to tie the game at 8-8 and steal momentum from the Gamecocks.

He also alternated with fellow-freshman Ainge to confuse the South Carolina defense and provide enough of an advantage to open up the game in the second half.

"I practiced hard this week. I came out and gave it my all," said Schaeffer, whose arm was in a sling after the game.

"It (pass to C.J. Fayton) was a big play at the end of the first half, and we got a lot of yards. It made a big difference in the locker room at halftime."

Although both offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and head coach Phillip Fulmer denied Ainge had taken over the starting role at quarterback, the freshman from Oregon clearly has a better arm than Schaeffer and a better command of the offense. As a result, Ainge has gotten most of the playing time since the win over Florida.

But Sanders said he had prepared a special package for Schaeffer to run against South Carolina and the Florida product had done a good job with it.

"I kind of felt like this was going to be Brent's kind of game, and it was," Sanders said. "He had his best week of practice this week and it breaks your heart that he played so well and this had to happen to him."

Fulmer was optimistic that Schaeffer might return in time for UT's bowl game, but that remains to be seen.

Tennessee's struggle offensively in the first half appeared to be merely a continuation of the problems that the Vols have been having since the loss to Auburn. The drop in point production resulted in a series of close games in which UT came out on the winning end, despite having been outscored overall by SEC opponents.

South Carolina's lack of offensive punch and the Tennessee defense's ability to rally inside the red zone kept the Gamecocks from taking a commanding early lead. A safety and three field goals gave coach Lou Holtz's squad only an 8-0 advantage, despite excellent field position for nearly the entire first half.

"Momentum goes back and forth. We just needed to make a stop," said Holtz, whose offense put up more than 500 yards on the Vols yet lost. "I still felt if we could make a play, we would be OK."

Sanders felt the same way about his own offense during the first half.

"It was frustrating because it seemed like if you could make a play, we could move the football," he said of the Vols being held to only 59 yards rushing in the half.

South Carolina's deteriorating defense and Ainge's accurate arm solved the problem, stretching the field, Ainge said, to allow the UT running game to get untracked. As a result, senior tailback Cedric Houston had a career night, with 190 yards and a touchdown.

"We didn't do a great job throwing the ball in the first half," Ainge said. "Usually our run sets up our pass, but when we came out (in the second half) it was the other way around."

Fulmer said the contest was just another in a series of close conference games that could have gone either way.

"We've had a lot of close wins and a lot of emotional things go along with that," Fulmer said. "This team just has tremendous character and toughness, and I admire that."

Six UT players this season hail from the state of South Carolina and three of them had a direct impact on the outcome of the game, including freshman defensive back Jonathan Hefney, who intercepted a pass to stop a South Carolina drive.

"It was a big game and we had doubts at the beginning but we came back," he said. "(The interception) was special to me because I played my high school championship game here and I felt I needed to come back and show up."

Defensive lineman Tony McDaniel, who is from Columbia, had three tackles for loss in the game, including a sack, and said it was the best game of his career. McDaniel is only a sophomore.

"I was excited about coming back to my home town and playing against some guys I know," he said. "I felt better mentally and physically coming into this game than I have all year."

Offensive lineman Richie Gandy is also from South Carolina, and his willingness to learn all of the positions is paying benefits for UT now that the depth up front is dwindling.

Starting tackle Michael Munoz, still suffering the effects of a concussion, did not make the trip, and starting guard Cody Douglas, who has missed the last two games with a sprained foot, saw only limited action against the Gamecocks. Gandy started at guard.

Ainge said the offense struggled early not because of the alterations in the offensive line but because Holtz had installed some defensive looks that he (Ainge) had not seen on film.

"They were moving their safety around and that confused me some at first," he said. "But we got the job done."

With the victory, Tennessee remains atop the SEC Eastern Division and barring an upset by Vanderbilt or Kentucky will get an opportunity to play for the title in Atlanta in December.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories