Ainge likely to start

Barring unforeseen developments, two members of Tennessee's football program will be in unfamiliar spots when the Vols face eighth-ranked Notre Dame Saturday at South Bend.

After working the sidelines the past few years, quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders will be in the press box. And, after opening Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 on the bench, quarterback Erik Ainge will be in the starting lineup.

"Erik will probably start the game," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Erik actually played pretty well in the (South Carolina) ballgame, made some really nice throws. The corner route to Jayson (Swain) was this much (two inches) out of bounds. And the post route to Chris Hannon was a really well-thrown ball.

"We've just got to keep him coming. Both quarterbacks (Ainge and Rick Clausen) will be available to play but Erik will start, and we'll go from there."

Ainge came off the bench to complete four of five passes on a 72-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter of Saturday's game with Carolina. He struggled thereafter, completing just 5 of 16 and giving way to Clausen. Ainge has been terribly inconsistent all season, and no one can explain why.

"If I had the total answer to that, I'd darn sure have it fixed by now," Fulmer said. "Erik has looked much better as far as his timing and things the last several weeks, and I think that was reflected in the ballgame, as well."

Sanders, who resigned as offensive coordinator earlier this week, will be watching the action from upstairs for the first time in several years.

"As far as our planning for this week, Randy will go to the press box," Fulmer said. "He and I will share the play-calling duties as we go through."

Sanders handled Tennessee's play-calling since becoming offensive coordinator in 1999. Although he no longer holds that title, he will continue to provide input on play selection. Fulmer hasn't filled the role of primary play-caller since his offensive coordinator days ended 14 years ago.

"The staff collectively is having input because obviously we're all affected by that," Fulmer said.

Tennessee has lost three games in a row and stands 3-4 on the season. The head man concedes his team has struggled with many problems this fall but says his staff's work ethic isn't one of them.

"We need everybody to really understand that this is a group of very, very prideful men as a staff that love the program, love the kids and have worked extremely hard," Fulmer said. "Offensively, we just haven't been able to get it done quite like we would have liked to have gotten it done.

"We will do all that we possibly can to win these next four games, starting with Notre Dame. The bottom line of it is we've got to make some plays. We've got to make some plays that help us win the ballgame."


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