Who's the quarterback?

On Tennessee's second offensive series Saturday night against South Carolina, starting quarterback Rick Clausen threw a pass that was intercepted at the Vol 19-yard line, setting up the Gamecocks' first touchdown.

Exit Clausen, enter Erik Ainge. Ainge promptly guided a 72-yard touchdown drive and a 32-yard field goal drive, providing a 10-7 lead and an end to The Great Quarterback Debate. Or so it seemed.

With the 2005 season obviously headed nowhere, the Vol staff appeared ready to start preparing for ‘06 by replacing a mildly effective senior quarterback (Clausen) with an erratic but gifted sophomore (Ainge).

That would've been the simple solution, of course, but there is nothing simple about Tennessee's 2005 season. After connecting on 8 of his first 14 passes for 61 yards, Ainge suddenly lost his touch. He completed just 1 of 7 passes for 4 yards in the third quarter.

Exit Ainge, enter Clausen, who guided the Vols to a fourth-period field goal that provided a short-lived 15-13 lead. He also led Tennessee's ill-fated last possession.

The final stats were inconclusive, mostly because the performances of the two QBs proved equally mediocre. Clausen finished 5 of 11 for 34 yards, Ainge 9 of 21 for 65. Combined, they were a nondescript 14 of 32 for 99 yards. If you're looking to explain Tennessee's offensive futility this fall, the quarterback position is one place to start.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer says the Vols' scoring woes go way deeper than the quarterbacks, however.

"They're both capable," he said. "They've both done it in the past, so it can't be just the quarterbacks. It's everybody. It's everything. It's something different each time we get stopped. We're not being efficient at all."

Clausen, despite his physical limitations, continues to impress the coach with his grit and savvy.

"Rick played well and did some good things in the game," Fulmer said. "But the zero pressure was bothering him. When they blitzed, they were bringing one more person than we could block.

"A couple of times he (Clausen) was ready to make a play and the receivers weren't. A couple of times he threw it too quickly … before he had to."

So, which quarterback starts Saturday's game at Notre Dame?

Flip a coin.


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