Ainge bounces back

Tennessee's offense isn't ready to score 30 points against California, but it is ready to proclaim improvement. The strides made in one week were evident. The Vols made fewer big mistakes and more big plays. And that was a positive sign for Erik Ainge.

``I thought we did a lot better as an offensive team,'' Tennessee's junior quarterback said. ``I thought we took it to them for a while. We've still got a ways to go, but I'm encouraged.''

Ainge used the word ``encouraged'' more than once. He felt better and the offense and himself after going 17 of 26 for 196 yards and one touchdowns, a 25-yard strike over the middle to Robert Meachem.

The first-team offense, which didn't score in the first major scrimmage, put up 17 points, if you count one overtime situation from the 25-yard line. The Vols scored on a field goal on a seven-play, 55-yard drive, scored a touchdown on a nine-play, 40-yard march and got a touchdown in an overtime simulation.

``We looked like we used to look out here,'' Ainge said.

A cynic might gasp, ``Oh, no.''

But Erik Ainge was referring to more positive times. And it was clear Ainge had a more positive pocket presence. He said he made a couple of mental mistakes when he tried to get ``too cute'' with some checks. Otherwise, he played well.

Ainge made several big-league throws. He zipped a 12-yard pass to the tight end on the first possession. He rolled left – yes, left, my least favorite play in the Ainge arsenal – and found Robert Meachem for 9 yards. He threw a 37-yarder to Meachem deep and to the left. He zipped a bullet to Jayson Swain on a slant for 19. He made a nice 39-yard toss to tight end Brad Cottam, who displayed an ability to go deep.

``The flow was better,'' Ainge said of the offense. ``We had seven practices in five days and we didn't take a play off. I think it really helped us a lot.''

Tennessee tried to go deep several times, but rarely had success with Ainge. Ainge is throwing the intermediate pass with zip and accuracy, but he's still a work in progress on throws beyond 30 yards.

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