On the same wavelength

Tennessee's first offensive snap last Saturday against Ole Miss saw Rick Clausen complete a nine-yard pass to C.J. Fayton. The second offensive snap saw Clausen complete a 20-yard pass to Fayton.

That shouldn't have surprised the Rebel defense. Fayton is clearly Clausen's favorite target. The question is: Why?

"Rick feels real comfortable with me because he knows, one, I'm going to catch the ball and, two, I'm going to be where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be there," Fayton said. "Right now we just seem to have a little chemistry going, and it's working out for both of us."

Actually, chemistry may not be the right word. Telepathy might be a more accurate term. They seem to be on the same mental wavelength.

"He pretty much knows what I'm going to do before I do it," Fayton said of Clausen. "He anticipates a lot of things I'm going to do, and it works well on the field."

This is no recent development, either. Clausen and Fayton have been clicking ever since Erik Ainge's shoulder injury midway through the 2004 season forced Clausen into the quarterback rotation.

"Really, he started looking for me a lot in the Notre Dame game last year," Fayton said. "That confidence and trust has grown over the year."

After catching Clausen's first two passes against Ole Miss, Fayton appeared on his way to a big day. He injured an ankle shortly thereafter, however, and did not catch another ball all afternoon. Fayton's status for this Saturday's SEC East showdown against fifth-ranked Georgia depends on how much progress his ankle makes in the next few days.

"Right now it feels pretty good," he said. "We're just going to have to take it day by day and make it a game-time decision."

Tennessee's receivers have taken a lot of criticism lately due to the Vols' inability to complete any deep balls. Fayton concedes that UT has been lacking in that area but says he isn't frustrated by it.

"Not really, as long as the offense is moving the ball and being productive," he said. "We're just missing big plays here and there. They're going to come. We just have to be patient. If everybody will do their job, it will eventually happen."

Whereas the strong-armed Ainge loves to throw deep, Clausen seems content to nickel and dime opponents with short passes. Still, Fayton says it would be inaccurate to blame the lack of big passing plays on Clausen's lack of arm strength.

"It's not fair," he said. "Both of them can throw the deep ball just fine. It's more about timing than anything else. Right now our timing's a little bit off. That's why we're out here on the practice field … trying to get that together. It's real close. We're fingertips away from making big plays."

With five veteran receivers back from 2004, Tennessee's passing game was supposed to be explosive this fall. To date, it has been considerably less. Fayton thinks switching from Ainge to Clausen to Ainge and back to Clausen has kept the Vols from developing any sort of offensive rhythm.

"If you look back, we've been going through a quarterback controversy," he said. "Trying to get reps with that one guy you really need to make them plays … we really haven't had that until now. Hopefully, within the next few weeks, as we work with Rick more and more, the big plays will happen."

One thing's for certain: If Vol wideouts make big plays Saturday, they must make them against press coverage. Florida used this technique with such great success in Game 2 that Georgia is sure to press until the Vols find a way to defeat it. No problem, Fayton says.

"We're very prepared," he said. "We're going to have a lot more options than we did at Florida to try and beat that."


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