Puttin' up numbers

Gaudy statistics don't produce success but they often underscore it. That seems to be the case for Tennessee, ranked eighth (Associated Press) and ninth (Coaches) in the latest national polls. Individually and collectively, the Vols are putting up some imposing numbers.

After completing 25 of 38 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday night's 51-33 defeat of Georgia, quarterback Erik Ainge has been named Walter Camp national offensive player of the week. He also is among four candidates for the Cingular All-America national player of the week to be voted on by college football fans.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer, speaking on his Sunday teleconference, praised Ainge for the quality performance he gave vs. the Bulldogs.

"I think it was great effort on his part," the head man said. "He stepped up and hit that big third-down throw from his end zone (a 17-yard strike to Meachem on third-and-13 at the Vol 5-yard line). Not many guys could make that throw. He's trusting his protection more and more. Just like anybody else, he understands more and now (that he's more experienced). He's playing within the parameters we've given him and doing good job of it."

Ainge's big numbers vs. Georgia were no recent development, however. He leads the Southeastern Conference in passing yards per game (276.2), passing efficiency (171.6 rating) and total offense per game (269.0). Nationally, he ranks eighth in yards and sixth in efficiency.

"Ainge continues to play extremely well," Fulmer noted.

So does junior wideout Robert Meachem, Ainge's favorite target. Meachem caught seven passes for 98 yards Saturday night and continues to lead all NCAA players in receiving yards with 675 through six games.

Senior cornerback Jonathan Wade got burned a couple of times Saturday but redeemed himself with some big plays, including a spectacular diving interception. He now leads the NCAA in passes defensed with 8 (six breakups and two interceptions).

As a team, Tennessee leads the SEC in scoring offense (35.2 points per game), passing offense (291.5 yards per game) and total offense (421.5 yards per game). The Vols also lead the league in first downs (127) and rank second nationally to Air Force in third-down efficiency at 59.5 percent.

The Big Orange has allowed just five sacks in six games, ranking second among the 12 SEC teams in that category. Tennessee is the least penalized team in the SEC, having lost just 205 yards in six games. Finally, UT's red-zone offense ranks No. 1 in the league. The Vols have scored on 21 of 23 forays inside the 20-yard line for a 91.3 percent success rate.

The 51 points Tennessee scored Saturday night were the most ever in a game against Georgia. Fulmer thought the big plays produced by UT's defense (three interceptions, a blocked punt and a fumble recovery) deserved a share of the credit for the Vols' 37 second-half points.

"You're glad to get 50 points anytime you can," he said. "When you have the short drives that the defense gave us, though, it's a team effort. When you don't have to drive that far to get some scores it does help. The defense in the second half, getting a short field for us, gave us opportunities."

Still, Tennessee's offense came through in the clutch several times. The most critical drive occurred after a 100-yard kickoff return by Thomas Brown had narrowed UT's lead to 38-33 with 12:34 to play. The Vols' attack unit promptly drove 55 yards in eight plays to score a clinching touchdown, then added a nine-play, 56-yard drive for an insurance TD in the final minutes.

"They basically showed great poise and determination," Fulmer noted. "You could hear it on the sidelines. It was fun to be part of. It was so wild that you didn't know what was going to happen next."

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