Vols due '85 rerun?

Tennessee's chances of winning the SEC championship took a major hit when first-team quarterback Erik Ainge suffered a shoulder separation last Saturday against Notre Dame. The talent drop-off from Ainge to successor Rick Clausen is significant.

Still, there is reason for optimism; the Vols have been down this road before. When a knee injury sidelined superstar QB Tony Robinson in 1985, the Big Orange turned to backup Daryl Dickey. The talent drop-off from Ainge to Clausen is no greater in 2004 than it was from Robinson to Dickey in '85.

As veteran Vol fans recall, teammates rallied around Dickey in '85. With his supporting cast picking up the slack, Dickey grew into the job. He guided the Big Orange to a 6-0-1 finish capped by an MVP performance in a 35-7 blitz of Miami in the 1986 Sugar Bowl Game.

Dickey was a fifth-year senior in '85. Clausen is a fourth-year junior. Like Dickey, Clausen has limited arm strength and so-so mobility. Like Dickey, Clausen is a coach's son who offsets his lack of physical tools with an abundance of savvy and know-how. And, like Dickey, Clausen is surrounded by enough playmakers that he doesn't have to win games by himself.

Can Clausen do in 2004 what Dickey did in '85?

Maybe. Maybe not. But that's a ray of hope Tennessee fans should be clinging to as the 2004 season enters the homestretch.

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