When Schaeffer and Ainge suffered season-ending injuries on back-to-back weekends (Game 8 at South Carolina and Game 9 vs. Notre Dame), Sanders was down to third-teamer Rick Clausen, who hadn't taken a meaningful snap all season. Still, Tennessee scored 38 points against Vanderbilt, 37 against Kentucky and 28 against an Auburn team that led the NCAA in scoring defense.
''He (Sanders) needs to be commended for keeping Rick Clausen as prepared as he did,'' Douglas said. ''He kept him prepared for the worst-case scenario. I think he really stayed on top of it this year.''
Douglas believes Sanders' biggest challenge was not GETTING two freshmen ready to play but KEEPING a little-used junior like Clausen ready to play.
''I think it would actually be tougher to keep an older guy into it,'' Douglas said. ''When you're not out there playing, you're down. You're definitely not happy about it -- we're all competitors here -- so I'm sure that was a tough task to stay into the game, keep your focus and prepare for an unlikely situation.''
Center Jason Respert is another card-carrying member of the Randy Sanders fan club.
''I think he's done an outstanding job,'' Respert said. ''Coach Sanders is big-time. I tell him that all the time, even though nobody gives him credit. I'm a big fan of Coach Sanders and the things he likes to do offensively.''
Asked how Sanders managed to overcome the inexperience at quarterback and the injury problems in the offensive front, Respert replied: ''I think Coach Sanders knows our weaknesses and knows how to minimize those and maximize our strengths. He's done a good job with our gameplans throughout the entire season of doing that.''
The fact Tennessee's offense has been more productive in 2004 with two freshmen at quarterback than it was in 2003 with a four-year starter at quarterback (Casey Clausen) suggests this may have been Sanders' finest coaching job to date.
''Oh, yeah, I would definitely say that,'' Respert said. ''He had to coach his tail off this year. Having a guy like Casey that knows your offense and needs very little coaching, then having two guys (Schaeffer, Ainge) come on campus and five or six months later win the SEC East ... that says a lot about his ability as a coach.''