A win is a win

When you get your first win since Oct. 1, even if it is over a depleted Memphis team, you can laugh at the little mistakes.

Arian Foster tumbled to the turf and came up shy of a critical first down at the Memphis 11-yard line in the fourth quarter. UT had to settle for a go-ahead field goal.

``There was a big piece of grass out there that I tripped on,'' Foster said.

``I tripped on the same piece of grass in the South Carolina game,'' laughed quarterback Rick Clausen after a hard-fought 20-16 homecoming victory over Memphis.

Even quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders had a victory cigar in his mouth.

``I thought that was only for a win over Alabama,'' someone told Sanders.

``Any win right now is a good enough,'' Sanders said of a team starved for victory.

Tennessee (4-5) kept alive its bowl hopes with Vanderbilt (4-6) coming to Knoxville on Saturday (12:30 p.m. on Jefferson-Pilot).

But not all is well on The Hill. The Vols managed a measly 341 yards against a defense that had given up over 500 yards in four of its last five games. They had only 126 rushing yards against a 2-man front that was scissored for 200 yards by Alabama-Birmingham's Corey White.

Then there's the quarterback quandary.

Erik Ainge delivered another forgettable performance - he made you forget he was actually a good quarterback last year. He threw one interception and had another nullified by a penalty. He was benched after three series in favor of Clausen.

Clausen, who was 14 of 24 for 209 yards and two touchdowns, dug the Vols out of a 13-0 second-quarter hole, then made a bizarre statement after the game.

``Whether I play or I don't play, I don't care at this point,'' Clausen said.

Did he mean to say ``start'' instead of ``play''? Surely he cares if he plays.

As Clausen warmed up, he threw to a manager, perhaps not confident any of the receivers could consistently catch his throws.

So, you've got Clausen who doesn't care if he plays, and Ainge who's upset at being benched - again.

What's a head coach to do? Phillip Fulmer isn't sure. He wants Ainge to succeed and gain confidence and prove he's capable of handling the job next season. But all Ainge does is provide more evidence for doubt. He keeps making foolish mistake after foolish mistake.

``He's been very responsive during practice,'' Fulmer said of Ainge, who has completed 41 percent of his passes this year with three touchdown and seven interceptions.

``It's probably not fair to yank him that quick, but how else is he going to learn he's got take care of the football. The first one (interception) was kind of OK. . The second one turned out not to be an interception (because of a penalty) but it could have been. Just don't make that throw. Throw it out of bounds and let's punt.''

Fulmer was asked how Ainge was able to set a school freshman-record for touchdown passes last season but play so poorly this season.

``I wish I could put my finger on it, I really, really do,'' Fulmer said. ``I can't. I don't know what the cause of it is. Maybe if we left him in another series, he gets composed and takes over, but at that point, I had to make a decision.''

Should Fulmer allow Ainge to play through his slump or bench Ainge for the rest of the season?

``Well, I don't know,'' said Fulmer, obviously perplexed. ``We're trying to play through it as much as we can. He's certainly had his good moments, but for whatever reason, it hasn't happened for him yet. My hope is he can fight through it because he's a talented young man.''

Ainge, a sophomore, said recently the game still has not slowed down for him. That, Fulmer says, is a surprise.

``As you get more experience, you should understand better,'' Fulmer said. ``Maybe the system has engulfed him a little bit. It's a fun offense when you've got command of it because you're basically in control of a lot of things. But I don't have an answer for you right now.

``He's not very happy right now, obviously. I'm happy to win but I'm not happy we have a young quarterback that's disturbed.''

Is Ainge unhappy because he played poorly or because he was benched?

``I think more with how he played, and the fact he didn't get to go back in, I guess,'' Fulmer said. ``I'd be disappointed if he wasn't disturbed or upset.''

So now what do you do if you're Fulmer?

You hand the keys to Clausen. He has proven he can beat mediocre teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He did it last year. He did it against Memphis.

You shut down Ainge. If you've got the shanks, stay away from the golf course for a few weeks or a few months. Don't destroy Ainge's confidence any longer.

Let your new offensive coordinator try to dig Ainge out of his dilemma.

But don't let Ainge continue to bury himself, his confidence and his team.


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