Sanders praises Clausen

Tennessee fans knew what to expect from Erik Ainge --a quick release, plenty of zip on his throws, good reads and surprising poise in the pocket.

Tennessee fans knew what to expect from Brent Schaeffer -- Incredibly quick feet, a fairly strong and accurate arm, an occasional freshman mistake but a tremendous knack for turning busted plays into big plays.

Tennessee fans do NOT know what to expect from Rick Clausen, who will quarterback Saturday's game at Vanderbilt. Oddsmakers don't know what to expect, either, which is why they've installed the Big Orange as a modest 13-point favorite despite a 7-2 record, a top-20 national ranking and a 21-game winning streak in the series.

So, how will the offense be different now that injuries to Schaeffer and Ainge have thrust Clausen into the QB job?

''Obviously, Rick's been in college four years, so he's been exposed to a little bit more,'' UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. ''At the same time, it's like playing with a freshman because he hasn't had that many starts ... hasn't had that many snaps.''

Whereas Ainge beat teams with his arm and Schaeffer beat them with his feet, Clausen must beat teams with his mind. His arm isn't nearly as strong as Ainge's and his feet aren't nearly as fast as Schaeffer's. As a result, he must outsmart and outexecute opponents in order to keep the first-down chains moving.

''Rick is intelligent ... sees the field well,'' Sanders said. ''He doesn't have the arm Erik has but he has a little more knowledge and awareness, so he'll have to make up for it with timing and anticipation.''

Asked what he brings to the offense, Clausen replied: ''I think I can get the offense out of a bad play. I think that's the biggest thing ... my understanding of the offense. I can put the offense in the best situation possible.

''Regardless of what kind of defense they (opponents) are in, we've just got to outsmart 'em. I think that's one of the keys -- knowledge of the game and understanding what the offense can do and what is expected of the quarterback position.''

Because Clausen is not as gifted as Ainge and Schaeffer, he won't be counted upon to make as many plays. Mainly, his job will be to get the ball to teammates who CAN make plays.

''Rick might be a little more dependent on everybody else playing well and doing their jobs,'' Sanders said. ''He doesn't have the arm or the legs to make up for his mistakes or THEIR mistakes.''

Not surprisingly, Clausen appears to be growing weary of hearing about the attributes he lacks.

''To play in this offense, you don't need to be 6-5, throw the ball 95 yards or run a 4.4,'' he said. ''You just need to play within yourself, run the offense as well as possible, and get the ball in the hands of the athletes.... Trying not to make mistakes is the biggest key.''

Clausen has some things going for him. After nearly two full years at Tennessee, he has a better grasp of the Vol schemes than Ainge or Schaeffer. Thus, he'll have access to more of the ''package'' than his freshman counterparts did.

''We can probably run more of our package with him,'' Sanders said. ''You try to play to his strengths. His arm isn't as big as Erik's but it's very similar to Brent's. And he's not unlike what Casey (Clausen) was. He's got plenty enough arm to be a good quarterback.''


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