Ainge's wait is over

Tennessee football fans experienced a feeling of helplessness as they watched Arkansas hammer the Vols 31-14 last November in Fayetteville.

Senior quarterback Erik Ainge can relate. Watching from the sidelines on a bum ankle, he experienced that same feeling of helplessness. He watched backup Jonathan Crompton sacked four times and hurried countless others. He watched the Vols convert just 4 of 13 third downs. He watched Tennessee complete a mere 16 of 34 passes and manage just 92 rushing yards on 29 attempts.

"It was tough but any time you can't play is hard," Ainge recalled this week. "I was hobbling around. If they (coaches) thought I would've done a better job on one leg, then I would've played. It's one of those things where you just hope everything works out."

Everything didn't work out, though. Arkansas's defensive line dominated Tennessee's offensive line, and the Vol attack unit never found any kind of rhythm.

"We ran the ball well at times," Ainge said, "but number 24 (linebacker Sam Olajubutu) ... every little trick thing we did he snuffed it out, making shoelace tackles all over the field. I think they (Razorbacks) played really well last year."

Ainge has been waiting a full year for his belated shot at the Hogs. He gets that shot this Saturday at 12:30 in Neyland Stadium. The 2007 Razorbacks have seven new starters on defense but Ainge believes he knows what to expect, based on last year's memories and this year's game films.

"We've seen what they do, who they have, who they lost, who they brought in," the Vol quarterback said. "I think we know what we need to do to be successful."

: The Vols and Razorbacks have matching 6-3 records this fall. Each has won five of its last six games after starting 1-2. Each is looking to finish with a flourish.

"There is a lot at stake for us and for them going into this game because, like us, they have won five out of their last six," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I expect a very physical football game. In the Southeastern Conference, you've got to win at the line of scrimmage."

In addition to their records, Tennessee and Arkansas have another similarity: Both have been terribly erratic. The Vols looked awesome against Georgia (winning 35-14) but awful against Florida (59-20 loss) and Alabama (41-17 loss). The Hogs played poorly in a 42-29 home loss to Kentucky and a 41-38 road loss to Alabama but limited Auburn to three field goals and looked unstoppable in a 48-36 drubbing of South Carolina last weekend.

Clearly, the Razorbacks are as unpredictable as Tennessee.

"Auburn beat 'em 9-7, so who's to say which team is going to show up?" Ainge said. "You could say that about both teams. If we both play our best, I think it'll be a great game. If one of us plays better, that team will probably win the game by quite a few. That's kind of been the story of the SEC."

While both teams are unpredictable in terms of performance, both are very predictable in terms of style. Tennessee prefers offensive balance, with a good mixture of runs and passes. Conversely, Arkansas is all about the ground game.

"Both teams might know what the other team's doing," Ainge noted, "but you've still got to go out there and execute."

One factor that might tip the scales in Tennessee's favor is the home-field advantage. The Vols are 5-0 on their own turf this season.

"We need a great crowd, and I know it will be," Fulmer said. "This is an exciting opportunity and challenge for our football team. I hope everybody will be early and be loud. We are 5-0 at home and we hope to continue that through this week. It should be a great football game."

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