The calm before the storm

There was something noticeably absent from the Tennessee locker room prior to Saturday's 12:30 kickoff against Arkansas ... noise.

Quarterback Erik Ainge noticed the eerie silence immediately, then realized his tight-lipped teammates were primed for a peak performance.

"They were cranked up," he recalled after the game. "I've never seen Arian (tailback Arian Foster) like that. Arian never shuts up, and I've never seen him quieter than he was before this football game. He was THAT focused.

"When you're a quarterback, that's kind of a good feeling when you can see how focused and into their jobs they are."

While the Vols were quiet before the game, their critics were quiet after it. Tennessee's smashing 34-13 victory left little room for grumbling and second-guessing.

Foster, who had nothing to say before the kickoff, let his actions do his talking once the game began. He finished with 83 yards on just 13 carries, including a 59-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that boosted the score to 27-3 and pretty well sealed the deal.

Interestingly enough, Foster's score came from an offensive look Arkansas had scouted so well that it was laying in wait for it. But, instead of throwing from that formation – as they had done in the previous nine games – the Vols ran the ball, catching the Razorbacks flat-footed.

"We do this little man-to-man play where we try to throw the ball to Lucas (Taylor)," Ainge said. "That's the only time we ever do it ... with that kind of motion. They (Razorbacks) knew what was coming, so we faked the man-to-man play, the O-line gave him a hole and Arian just hit it running. Good play."

Ainge ran a lot of good plays Saturday, although he completed just 12 of 25 passes. His 128 yards were just three more than the season-low 125 he posted a week earlier against Louisiana-Lafayette.

After throwing for 1130 yards in Tennessee's first four outings (282.5 per game), Ainge has thrown for just 1136 yards in the six games since (189.3 per). That's a drop of nearly 100 yards per game but head coach Phillip Fulmer isn't worried.

"Erik is playing magnificently," Fulmer said. "From a coach's standpoint, he's handling the offense, he's not turning it over, he's getting us in and out of good plays, managing the clock and throwing the ball accurately."

The head man believes the slippage in the senior quarterback's numbers reflects a better ground game, not a worse Ainge. The Vols are running a lot more and passing a lot less in recent weeks.

"That's not the way we're going to play all the time, certainly," Fulmer said, subsequently adding: "But all he wants to do is win. He has got as big a smile today as he did when he threw for 300 yards. He wants to win."


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