''Last year coming out of spring practice I said, 'I'm not sure who the quarterback's going to be,' '' Fulmer said moments after the Orange posted a 60-50 win. ''This year I'm not sure who it's going to be but (insert smile here) it's going to be a GOOD one.''
Here's why: Whereas the Vol boss spent last spring trying to determine which quarterback was least likely to LOSE games, he spent this spring trying to decide which quarterback is most likely to WIN games. That debate will carry over until preseason drills begin in August. Right now, the race is too close to call. Rick Clausen completed 13 of 20 passes for 154 yards Saturday with a 33-yard touchdown strike to freshman Josh Briscoe. Erik Ainge completed just 5 of 13 for 94 yards but one of his tosses was a 55-yard strike to Bill Grimes and another was a laser to Casey Woods for an 11-yard touchdown.
''I thought Rick and Erik played really well,'' Fulmer said.
Even though the Orange & White game was a mere intrasquad scrimmage, the head man said the strong performances by Ainge and Clausen were quite siginficant.
''Any time the quarterbacks can play 11 on 11,'' he said, ''it's a big deal for them.''
Meanwhile, fans would be advised not to forget about Brent Schaeffer. The fleet-footed lefthander may have been the most impressive QB of the spring before he was suspended last week following his arrest on a simple assault charge.
''Schaeffer was probably the most productive in the scrimmages,'' Fulmer conceded, ''because a lot of times they (QBs) were running for their lives, and that's what he does pretty well.''
Although the 60-50 score suggests Saturday's game was an offensive explosion, that simply was not the case. The rules were seriously modified to help the attack units. The Orange (offense) got 19 points for posting 19 first downs. It got 4 more for returning 4 kickoffs beyond the 30-yard line. It got 2 more for twice stopping punt returns for less than five yards.
Still, the offense got 35 of its points the old-fashioned way -- scoring five touchdowns. In addition to the TD passes by Clausen and Ainge, fan favorite Jim Bob Cooter completed an 11-yard TD pass to Casey Woods, Robert Williams scored on a one-yard run and David Yancey scored on a four-yard burst.
The offense scoring five touchdowns represents quite a news flash, since the attack units didn't score a TD on the defense in all of the previous spring scrimmage sessions combined. Of course, stunting and blitzing were forbidden Saturday, which severely hampered Vol defenders.
''It wasn't really fair to them,'' Fulmer conceded, ''but I didn't want a 10-3 type scrimmage.''
The head man called Saturday's showing ''the offense's best day of the spring but there's an asterisk by it because there were some limitations.''
With Gerald Riggs limited to seven carries (for 32 yards), speedy freshman JaKouri Williams led all rushers with 88 yards on 14 carries. His best run was a 30-yard burst. Yancey chipped in 44 yards on 13 carries. Freshman Arian Foster missed the scrimmage with a sore ankle.
Kicker Ryan Fusco missed field goal tries of 49 and 47 yards and also misfired on two of his seven PAT attempts. Britton Colquitt averaged 39.2 yards punting but had shanked one kick for just 5 yards. Fulmer took the blame for that one, saying he was hollering at the freshman to punt to the right side of the field as the ball was being snapped.
Defensive standouts were safety Jonathan Hefney (5 solos, 1 assist, 1 pass breakup, 1 interception), freshman linebacker Jerod Mayo (5 solos, 1 assist, 3 tackles for loss), linebacker Daniel Brooks (5 solos, 1 tackle for loss), safety Antwan Stewart (4 solos, 1 assist, 1 tackle for loss), end Antonio Reynolds (3 solos, 2 assists, 2 tackles for loss, 1 fumble forced), freshman tackle Demonte Bolden (4 solos, 1 assist, 2 tackles for loss, 2 QB hurries), safety Corey Campbell (3 solos, 2 assists) and cornerback Antonio Gaines (4 solos, 1 pass breakup).
The defense scored its points as follows: 5 points for 5 times forcing a three-and-out possession ... 18 points on three turnovers (at 6 points each) ... 5 points for stopping 5 kickoff returns inside the 30-yard line ... 2 points for returning 2 punts more than 10 yards. The defense also got 20 points for registering two defensive touchdowns. The first was an 84-yard punt return by Inky Johnson. The second was a 75-yard interception return by Hefney of an ill-advised flat pass by Bo Hardegree.