Two heads better than one?

Head coach Phil Fulmer put an end to the Vols' quarterback platoon earlier this week by announcing that Erik Ainge will be "The Guy" for Saturday night's game at LSU. That raises the question: Will this help?

"I think and hope and believe that settling on a quarterback will make a difference for us," Fulmer noted earlier this week.

Think? Hope? Believe? Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Still, the announcement represents great news for Ainge and not-so-great news for Rick Clausen, who played most of Game 1 in relief and started Game 2 before relinquishing the QB reins after two ill-fated series.

Fulmer and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders suggested all preseason that having two quarterbacks the caliber of Ainge and Clausen was a great situation. Three weeks into the season, however, Fulmer was calling it "a mess."

The quarterback situation appeared to be just fine when Ainge guided the Vols to a field goal and a touchdown on their first two possessions in Game 1 against Alabama-Birmingham. But the coaches pulled him at that point and inserted Clausen. Ainge returned after one series but has never regained the form he exhibited on those first two series of the season.

"I think we broke his rhythm against UAB when we put Rick in," Sanders concedes.

Ainge finished 5 of 14 against the Blazers, then completed 14 of 29 against Florida in Game 2. Sanders says those mediocre numbers aren't entirely the quarterback's fault, however.

"Against Florida we had a couple of miscommunications on routes," the coordinator said. "He'd check to a route, signal it out to the receiver, and the receiver didn't see the signal."

After watching his team score just 24 points in its first two games, Fulmer decided to scrap the quarterback platoon. He explained he didn't want the guy on the field "looking over his shoulder" in anticipation of being replaced.

Sanders isn't sure that was ever a problem.

"I don't think it's been a situation where they've really been worried that if they don't play good they're not going to play anymore," the coordinator said. "I just think naming a No. 1 guy and a No. 2 guy maybe identifies it a little bit."

Since relieving Ainge after two series in Game 1 and relieving Clausen after two series in Game 2 failed miserably, the Vol staff has wisely discarded that strategy.

"We haven't talked about it yet, but I don't imagine we'll go into this game with a plan to play Rick the third series," Sanders said. "Erik kind of knows it's his game to go out there and play. It carries a little more responsibility because it's your show. But it also may allow the freedom to throw the ball away on third down if the guy's not open because (the quarterback knows) it's not going to be 45 minutes before he gets back in the game."

A quarterback platoon is hardly a new idea at Tennessee. The Vol staff split time between Ainge and fellow freshman Brent Schaeffer last season, with positive results. So, why did a two-man rotation work in 2004 and not in 2005?

"Last year we had two different packages – one you did with Erik, one you did with Brent," Sanders said. "Most of Brent's package was designed to get him on the corner. Maybe throwing so many of the same routes (this fall) with two different quarterbacks has affected us some."

Whatever the reason, Sanders readily concedes that the great quarterback experiment of 2005 has been a failure to this point.

"In hindsight," he said, "it's probably disrupted us a little bit more than we thought it would going in."

Once Fulmer opted to go with one quarterback, deciding which one to choose was relatively simple.

"We've got two guys that can play," Sanders said. "We've got one guy (Clausen) that really knows his stuff and is really sharp. We've got another guy (Ainge) who's sharp – not quite as far along in his development – but has a lot of talent.

"We kind of made the decision to go with ability over experience, so we'll try to get the ability some experience as fast as we can."


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