At the crossroads

When quarterbacks Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge suffered season-ending injuries in Game 8 and 9, respectively, Tennessee's football team found itself at the crossroads. Reduced to third-team QB Rick Clausen, the Vols' outlook was not nearly as bright as it had been.

What happened next, however, saved the season. Rather than ask Clausen to shoulder the burden, the offensive line began to assert itself.

''I don't think there was ever a point where anybody was panicking,'' guard Cody Douglas said. ''I think we knew we had to rally around Rick. We all had a great deal of confidence in him. He's a smart guy who knows the offense. If we could protect him, we felt like he could go out and get the job done. We just knew as an offensive front we had to ease the pressure off of him.''

The Vols then went out and did precisely that. The line opened holes that enabled Gerald Riggs to post 100-yard rushing performances against Vanderbilt (149) and Auburn (182) and enabled Cedric Houston to crack the 100 barrier against Kentucky (127). Meanwhile, the blocking front kept Clausen out of harm's way.

The result? An SEC East title and a bid to the Cotton Bowl on New Year's day.


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