Ainge finds two new roles

Tennessee's quarterback assumed a couple of unfamiliar roles Saturday against Georgia – blocker and hand-off guy.

Erik Ainge filled the first role by throwing a block (sort of) on Lucas Taylor's 56-yard touchdown pass to LaMarcus Coker. Ainge filled the second role by routinely handing off and watching the ground game carry the Vol offense, instead of having to carry it himself.

Ainge reminded no one of Arron Sears on his Saturday night block but he got enough of Georgia's defensive end to give Taylor time to unload.

"That defensive end did a good job," Ainge conceded. "I was lucky just to get a piece of him."

Taylor has now completed two of two passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns as a Vol. He threw a 48-yard TD pass to Coker last season on the same play.

"We ran it twice and we scored twice," Ainge said. "It's the same play we ran against Florida last year. It's just a matter of getting it off. Lucas Taylor played quarterback in high school, and he can throw it falling backward off his back foot. He made a great play."

After being Tennessee's offensive focal point for all of 2006 and the first four games of 2007, Ainge basically got a day off against Georgia. He completed 17 of 22 passes for just 165 yards, his lowest yardage total as a full-game starter since the Alabama game of 2004.

And who could've anticipated Tennessee would score five touchdowns without a single TD pass from Ainge?

Basically, the senior quarterback didn't throw as much Saturday because he didn't HAVE TO throw as much as in earlier games.

"I thought our game plan was great," he said. "We had a couple of sets and plays that they didn't have an answer for, so we kept going back to the well and kept making plays."

Specifically, tailbacks Arian Foster (98 yards on 17 carries) and Montario Hardesty (68 yards on 14 carries) kept making plays. They benefited from good blocking but they also broke some tackles and got extra yards on their own.

"The backs made people miss," Ainge noted. "You can't block 'em all. When the first guy comes, if he can't make the tackle, you're going to run the ball well."

With the ground game finally showing some spark, Ainge did not have to shoulder the entire offensive load against Georgia. Getting some help from Foster, Hardesty and Coker (who managed just 17 yards on 8 carries) was a real luxury.

"It helps a lot," Ainge said. "We've got three guys that can do it all. They all have their strengths. Obviously, when we're able to run the ball into the end zone from 22 yards out, the 5 and the 10, that makes it that much easier when you don't have to throw it in."

Based on Tennessee's first four games, Georgia probably expected the Vols to put the ball in the air 50 times. Instead, they came out "pounding the rock." When the tactic worked, they stuck with it all game long.

"We were able to run the football better than we have all year," Ainge said. "When we needed to run it we ran the football. When they knew we were running it we still ran the football. That's what we wanted to see."

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has been insisting all fall that Tennessee had the makings of a capable ground game. Saturday the Vols finally proved it, enabling Ainge to throw when he wanted to, not when he HAD to.

"We came out, wanting to do what Coach Cut said," Ainge noted. "We were going to take our shots, be aggressive, call our plays and get after 'em running the football. Whenever you can run the ball it makes everything that much easier."

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