Ainge joins elite company

Erik Ainge accomplished something Saturday night that only one other quarterback in Tennessee history has been able to do. Ainge threw more than 45 passes in a game and won, a feat matched only by Peyton Manning, who did it three times in the 1990s.

In 1997, Manning beat Southern Miss and UCLA while throwing 53 and 49 passes, respectively. In 1995, he threw 46 to beat Arkansas.

Ainge threw 46 against Alabama, completing 28 for 302 yards in a hard-fought 16-13 victory that evened the series in Knoxville, 20-20-1. UT quarterbacks are now 4-8-1 when attempting at least 45 passes in a game.

It wasn't by design that Ainge aired it out against Alabama.

``No, I didn't really think we would,'' Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said, when asked if he thought UT would pass that often. ``They made a commitment (to stop the run) by putting defensive backs in the box.''

The lack of a passing game hurt the run game. The Vols running backs gained only 55 yards on 18 carries – 3.0 yards per attempt. It was better than the minus-11 against Florida, but such an anemic running game typically won't allow you to score many points.

``It was pretty obvious, particularly early, we didn't execute,'' Cutcliffe said of the passing game. ``We just weren't on. That was the bottom line. It's a tribute to them (Alabama). They did a good job. They made the plays and we didn't for the longest time.''

So long that Tennessee didn't mount a touchdown drive until 6:40 of the game, marching 70 yards on nine plays to score the game-winning points.

``I'm real proud of the second half,'' Cutcliffe said.

Perhaps as proud of the second half as he was disappointed in the first. In the first 30 minutes, the Vols threw three interceptions and failed to take advantage of good field position twice.

In the second half, Ainge was 17 of 25 for 153 yards and the Vols scored on three of seven possessions.

Tennessee entered the game having converted 59.5 percent of the time on third down. The Vols made six of 15 against Alabama. UT also had scored a touchdown on 17 of 23 trips inside the 20-yard line. UT went one-for-three inside the 20 and managed just one touchdown on nine trips inside Bama territory.

Cutcliffe took blame for UT's struggles.

``I didn't help us very much,'' Cutclifffe said. ``I don't think I did a very good job of managing some of the things I needed to manage. I'm going to critic myself hard and we'll learn from this. We just didn't play very well and I take full credit for that.

``I'm going to look at this real hard and see, should we have been committed a little bit more to the run? Should we have tried to balance it more early? When you look at the big picture, we did a lot of things poor. If we just get it in the end zone instead of kicking field goals, we have a pretty big game when there wasn't much happening offensively either way. But we found a way to be successful when we had to.''

Even though Ainge was shaky for much of the game, Cutcliffe felt confident his junior quarterback would come through in the clutch on UT's only TD-scoring drive.

``I certainly felt, from what he'd done to this point (in the season), we'd get back in a groove,'' Cutcliffe said.

While Cutcliffe wasn't happy with Ainge's high-throw interception to Simeon Castille late in the second quarter, Cutcliffe was happy to see Ainge hustle to make the tackle, preventing a touchdown. Alabama had to settle for a field goal, a four-point swing in a game Tennessee won by three.

``He ran faster than I've ever seen him run,'' Cutcliffe said.

During the play, Cutcliffe said he thought of an NFL playoff game a year ago between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis in which Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tackled Nick Harper on a fumble return to avert a touchdown.

``If Roethlisberger doesn't make that tackle,'' Cutcliffe said. ``they don't win. They don't ever play in the Super Bowl. They never call themselves Super Bowl champions.''

And if not for Ainge's tackle, Tennessee might not have beaten Alabama.

FOURTH QUARTER CLOSERS

After struggling to close the deal in earlier games, Tennessee has been tough in the fourth quarter.

The Vols outscored Alabama 10-0 and Georgia 27-6 in the final 15 minutes. They beat Memphis 14-7 in the last period and laid it on Marshall, 17-0.

That's 68-13 over the last five games.

``It looks like we've learned to play the fourth quarter the way it needs to be played,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ``It's their attitude and the way they've approached it.''

Cutcliffe also praised the Vols on their fourth-quarter play.

``Coach Fulmer challenged all of us about fourth-quarter performance and that's something we've worked hard at and they've taken that personally,'' Cutcliffe said.

EXTRA POINTS: UT's defense not only held Alabama to 53 rushing yards; the Tide failed to convert on its last nine third downs. … UT went over 153 minutes without scoring a touchdown against Alabama until Arian Foster's fourth-quarter dive. … After Georgia averaged 6.4 yards per rush, Alabama averaged 1.8. … On first downs, UT was 13 of 21 passing for 113 yards with three interceptions and ran seven times for 33 yards with two runs totaling 34 yards. That's 146 yards on 28 first-down plays.


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