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September 21, 2004So much for freshman jitters.
Tennessee true freshman quarterback Erik Ainge calmly engineered three fourth-quarter scoring drives as the Volunteers rallied to defeat Florida, 30-28, Saturday night in Knoxville, Tenn. Playing before 109,061 fans and staring into the glare of national television cameras, he led Tennessee to its second-straight win over one of its most fierce rivals.
Ainge has been named National Freshman of the Week by Rivals.com.
"He never had a look of doubt in his eye in the huddle," Tennessee offensive lineman Cody Douglas said. "That guy was a gunslinger out there tonight."
Ainge has yet to start a game for the 2-0 Vols. That honor has fallen on another true freshman, Brent Schaeffer. But both players have seen plenty of action as Tennessee continues to search for steadiness and production at the quarterback spot.
By the time last week's game entered the fourth quarter, Vols coaches decided to sink or swim with Ainge. In the final 7:23, he twice rallied Tennessee from behind. Kicker James Wilhoit nailed a 50-yard field goal with six seconds remaining to secure the victory.
Ainge completed 16 of 24 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns. On third- and fourth-down plays, he completed five of seven passes for 82 yards. None was bigger than a 32-yard completion to wide receiver Tony Brown on a fourth-and-six play late in the fourth quarter that kept the Vols alive.
"That's the most fun part of football for me as a quarterback, the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter," Ainge said. "You have to be out there making plays, and that's what you live for, that's what you dream for, what you work so hard in the summer for."
As they did in Tennessee's season-opener against UNLV, Ainge and Schaeffer rotated in every third series in the first half and into the third quarter against Florida. But after Schaeffer fumbled inside the Florida 20 midway through the third quarter, Ainge took charge for the remainer of the game.
Is a "quarterback controversy" brewing on Rocky Top?
"Both of them will be fine, but you don't want to start saying that this is Erik Ainge's team," Vols coach Philip Fulmer said. "Erik Ainge did a good job within the system, and I think he's going to be really special, as I do Schaeffer. But the rest of the football team picked him up very well, not to take anything at all away from Erik. He played very well."
Other freshmen of note
Notre Dame's Walker wins first weekly award
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