Pressure's on Ainge

The pressure is on Erik Ainge -- literally and figuratively -- this Saturday against Notre Dame.

Tennessee's freshman quarterback literally faces pressure from a Fighting Irish defense that plays a much more aggressive scheme than last week's foe, South Carolina.

''They're a pressure team with their front,'' UT head man Phillip Fulmer says. ''We'll see about every movement and blitz you can see. We need to make sure the ball's off quick (in the passing game) and that we move the pocket some.''

There's also pressure on Ainge in the figurative sense. With UT's tailbacks and offensive linemen banged up, the Vols are unlikely to mount a strong running attack against a Notre Dame defense that allows just 99 rushing yards per game. That means Ainge's arm may produce most of Tennessee's yards this Saturday.

''He is talented,'' offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said of Ainge. ''I think we'll be able to throw the ball but you can't go in saying you're going to turn the game over to him and expect to win the thing throwing.''

There's even more pressure on Ainge now that No. 2 QB Brent Schaeffer is out with a fractured clavicle. Lacking a proven backup, Ainge MUST make quick decisions so that he doesn't expose himself to unnecessary hits that might send him to the sidelines, as well.

''Obviously, we've got to keep him healthy; that pretty much takes the option out of the picture,'' Sanders quipped. ''He's just got to go play football. You can't have him going out there trying to play a different way. He's got to go out there and play just like he has every play this year.''

Basically, keeping Ainge healthy is a bigger concern for Tennessee's coaches than it is for Ainge himself.

''As coaches, maybe you prepare a little bit different trying to minimize the number of hits he gets,'' Sanders conceded. ''But, overall, he's pretty good at getting rid of the ball.''

Surprisingly, the fleet-footed Schaeffer has been sacked nine times this fall ... Ainge just two times. And Sanders says those two sacks were flukes. The first one came when a tailback went the wrong way and Ainge was forced to take a loss on a busted play. The second came last weekend against South Carolina, when Tennessee was milking the clock.

''I told him to either throw the ball to the fullback or keep it and run to keep the clock running,'' Sanders said. ''That's exactly what he did. He DOES NOT get back there, hold the ball and take sacks. He does a nice job.''

Fulmer figures Ainge may do an even nicer job now that Schaeffer is sidelined.

''Instead of splitting first-team reps, he's going to get all the first-team reps,'' the head man said. ''That should improve his game. We can gear things around just him offensively. You'd love to have that other dimension (Schaeffer's mobility). But if it's not there, you go with whatever's the next-best thing.''

Sanders agrees that Ainge can benefit from the added work he'll get in practice.

''Increasing the reps should increase his development,'' the coordinator said. ''The bad thing is, nothing motivates you like competition, and suddenly a little bit of that competition is gone. But I think Erik is the type of person that he won't be satisfied where he's at. He'll keep pushing to improve.''

Tennessee streamlined its offense in preseason to accommodate two freshman QBs. Now the Vols are streamlining it to accommodate ONE freshman QB.

''There are a lot of plays on the board we've erased the last couple of days,'' Sanders said. ''Brent gave us another option, a lot of mobility at the position. There were several things we did last week that were tailor-made and suited for him that aren't necessarily suited for anyone else we have.

''It limits us a little in that way.''


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