Can Banks pull a Clausen?

If Tennessee's James Banks has to make his first collegiate start at quarterback this Saturday night against Alabama, he'll have history on his side.

The last time a Vol freshman made his starting debut at quarterback against Bama was just two years ago. His name was Casey James Clausen, and he guided the Big Orange to 20-10 victory. Clausen completed 17 of 24 passes for 213 yards that day, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Incidentally, Peyton Manning made his THIRD career start vs. the Tide in 1994. After guiding the Vols past Washington State 10-9 and Arkansas 38-21, Manning suffered his first loss as a college starter when the 10th-ranked Tide held off the Vols 17-13. Despite the setback, Manning distinguished himself.

''Peyton started against them in '94 and played pretty well,'' Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders recalled. ''Casey made his first start against Alabama in 2000 and played pretty well. Our team played pretty well in both of those games, too. Hopefully, our team will rise up and respond to THIS challenge.''

Clausen continues to recover from a fractured clavicle that caused him to miss the Georgia game 11 days ago. His status for Saturday night's game remains uncertain.

''We're still evaluating exactly where Casey is,'' Sanders said. ''Obviously, if Casey can play and be effective, he's our best player. He gives us our best chance to win. We're still evaluating exactly how healthy he is and how much he's really able to do.''

Since Tennessee's offensive line has struggled in pass protection and Alabama leads the Southeastern Conference in sacks, keeping Clausen out of harm's way -- should he play -- is a major concern.

''Sometimes extra protection is the answer but sometimes you keep an extra guy in there, and they just bring an extra blitzer,'' Sanders said. ''You have to do a good job blocking, the quarterback has to have that clock in his head ticking -- knowing he doesn't have very long -- and the receivers have to do a good job having a sense of urgency running routes and getting open early. They can't expect to be running 18 to 20 yards downfield and expect the quarterback to have time to throw it to 'em.''

Asked if Vol trainers might put extra padding on Clausen's injured shoulder to protect it, Sanders shrugged.

''There are some things they can do,'' he said. ''You do all you can. But football's obviously a physical game. When a 300-pounder falls on you, it hurts.''

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