Ainge declaws Tigers, 41-7

History suggested Memphis would give Tennessee fits Saturday at Liberty Bowl Stadium but Vol quarterback Erik Ainge apparently flunked history. The strong-armed junior completed 23 of 27 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns as the Vols tamed the Tigers 41-7.

Ainge was never better, except for one play. With Tennessee leading 3-0 midway through the first quarter he tried to force a ball over the middle. Tiger linebacker Quinton McCrary intercepted and returned 30 yards for an apparent touchdown. Fortunately for the Vols, the interception was nullified by an off-sides penalty.

Given the reprieve, Ainge guided Tennessee downfield for a touchdown that widened the gap to 10-0. It was 13-0 at halftime, then Ainge put the game on ice by leading the Vols to three TDs on their first four possessions of the second half.

Backup QB Jonathan Crompton completed two of two passes for 37 yards and Tennessee's ground game amassed 205 yards as the Vols finished with 566 yards of total offense. The Vols also converted on 11 of 16 third-down tries. Ainge gave most of the credit for the outburst to offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and Tennessee's unsung offensive line.

"I had all day to throw," Ainge said on the Vol Network post-game show. "Anytime I can have that much time to throw – as well as the receivers are playing right now – that makes it real tough on defenses.

"We ran the ball very well tonight. When you can run the ball and keep the defensive coordinator guessing, it makes all the difference in the world. Coach Cutcliffe did a great job of keeping ‘em guessing."

Defensive coordinator John Chavis kept the Tigers guessing, too. His troops limited Memphis to five first downs and 121 total yards (42 rushing, 79 passing). The Tigers' score came on a 21-yard pass from Martin Hankins to Duke Calhoun one play after Memphis recovered a fourth-quarter fumble by JaKouri Williams.

Placement specialist James Wilhoit paced the Vol kicking game, hitting field goals of 28 and 49 yards.

Still, this day belonged to Ainge, who got plenty of help from his friends. Robert Meachem caught four balls for 157 yards, including an electrifying 84-yard touchdown play.

"The play was designed to go to another player but it happened to come to me," he said on the post-game show. "Bret Smith came from the backside and made a key block, and I ran it in."

Jayson Swain caught just three passes but converted two of them into touchdowns covering five and 51 yards. Fellow senior Bret Smith added five catches for 46 yards and a TD. Meachem said Vol wideouts have worked awfully hard in the wake of last fall's 5-6 losing season.

"We felt like last year – the 5-6 season – was kind of our fault," he said on the post-game wrap-up. "We took it personal, and everybody tried to step up their game. The O-line is blocking well, the running backs are running good, Erik is doing his thing. We've got a lot of weapons, and now we're starting to use ‘em."

One of those weapons is tight end Chris Brown, who caught a career-high five passes for 24 yards vs. Memphis.

"We spread the ball around to a lot of receivers," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said on his post-game radio show. "It was good to get the tight end involved as much as they did. Our receivers and Erik Ainge just continue to light it up."

Redshirt freshman LaMarcus Coker, making his first start at tailback, carried 26 times for 125 yards. He had carried just 19 times in the previous four games combined.

"That's not too much work at all," Coker said of his 26 carries. "It definitely enabled me to get into a good rhythm. If they want to give me 20-30 carries a game, I'm more than willing to take on the challenge and carry the load. I think we got a lot accomplished in the running game. I'm proud of myself and I'm proud of the offensive line for the things they were opening up for me."

Montario Hardesty carried 14 times for 43 yards and David Yancey rushed five times for 24 yards and a touchdown.

"Coker gives us a nice dimension," Fulmer said. "I thought Montario ran hard, as well."

The Vols visit Georgia Saturday in Athens. Kickoff is set for 7:45.


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