After completing 55 percent of his passes for 1,452 yards as a freshman, Ainge completed just 45 percent for 737 yards as a sophomore. Moreover, his passer efficiency rating plummeted from 135.89 in 2004 to 89.94 in 2005.
Clearly, Ainge's level of play dipped in 2005 … and so did his level of confidence.
"A little bit," he conceded earlier this spring. "It was shaky. There were times when it was as high as ever and times when it was kind of low. It was kind of off and on."
Mostly it was off. Ainge completed just 5 of 14 passes for 57 yards in Game 1 vs. UAB with two interceptions. He was 7 of 19 for 54 yards and an interception that produced a gift touchdown for LSU in Game 3. He was 9 of 21 for 63 yards in Game 7 vs. South Carolina. He was 13 of 32 with two interceptions in Game 8 at Notre Dame. Ainge finally put together a solid effort in Game 11 vs. Kentucky, completing 17 of 25 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
"I think I ended the year on a positive note," he noted. "Then I had a real good offseason, so we'll take this one day at a time right now."
The poor play of Erik Ainge and the rest of UT's offensive players last fall led to the resignation of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. Now Sanders has been replaced by the same guy who preceded him, David Cutcliffe. Ainge adjusted quickly to Sanders and feels he will adjust just as quickly to Cutcliffe.
"It didn't take me too long with Coach Sanders," Ainge recalled. "I came in during the summer and played as a true freshman. I think I'll be able to pick it up pretty quick. But the first thing you have to do is get used to how he (Cutcliffe) is going to run practice, his tempo and all that."
With the offense struggling last fall, Ainge felt pressure to make plays that might snap the Vols out of their doldrums. He didn't handle the pressure well, so he's trying to focus his attention elsewhere this spring.
"Getting back to playing football, not trying to get too complicated and worry about being perfect," he said. "You don't always got to get in the perfect play or handle everything perfect. I just need to get back to what I've done my whole life … just play football."