Ainge waits his turn

Sophomore quarterback Erik Ainge's 2005 season mirrors that of Tennessee's football team as a whole; it began with high hopes but hasn't come anywhere near living up to expectations.

Ainge was pictured on magazine covers throughout the South in August. Teammates noted his progress and fans sang his praises throughout Big Orange Country. Alas, very little has gone right for him since the season started.

After a spotty performance in Game 1 against UAB, he came off the bench in Game 2 at Florida. Ainge started Game 3 at LSU but played so poorly that he was benched late in the first half and stayed there through Games 4 (Ole Miss) and 5 (Georgia). He played one series in Game 6 at Alabama, then threw a Hail Mary on the game's final play that was intercepted.

Because Ainge provides more mobility and more arm strength than starter Rick Clausen, Tennessee's coaches and fans are hoping he'll find his 2004 form soon. That's why they plan to give him some playing time Saturday night against South Carolina.

"I anticipate him playing some," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "We actually intended to play him more (vs. Bama) last week but Rick was doing a great job of managing the game. It wasn't a game where we were expecting the quarterback to go out and win it for us or do a whole lot. The way Rick was managing things and running the show I didn't see a big reason to change."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer also expects Ainge to see action Saturday night, based on his recent work in practice.

"Erik is working hard, doing all the right things," Fulmer said. "He's doing a really good job in practice. He's ready to see if he can make a contribution. I think everybody knows how talented he is. He just needs the opportunity and needs success.

"We'll probably get him in as early as we can."


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