Monday, October 15, 2007

Ainge, offense cruising for No. 20 Tennessee

Associated Press Writer

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Titus Brown is used to creating havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

However, the Mississippi State defensive end rarely got close enough to Tennessee's Erik Ainge on Saturday to shake hands, let alone disrupt his nearly flawless game.

``It gets frustrating trying to get to him,'' Brown said. ``You work so hard to get back there and right when you do, he makes a great play.''

Since getting overwhelmed 59-20 by Florida a month ago and tumbling from the Top 25, the 20th-ranked Volunteers have vaulted back into the polls and the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division chase by averaging 38.6 points and 464 yards per game during a three-game win streak.

Tennessee (4-2, 2-1) is tied for second in the SEC East entering its game this week at Alabama after winning a tough road game 33-21 over resurgent Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3).

The key has been a balanced, patient offensive attack that has had a counter for every trick opposing defenses have tried since what coach Phillip Fulmer called an ``embarrassing'' loss to the Gators.

``Our quarterback play has been outstanding, our running backs have done a great job, our offensive front continues to improve and our receivers have done a good job,'' Fulmer said. ``So we've been about as balanced as we have been in a while.''

Tennessee is now No. 1 in passing offense in the conference with 270.5 yards per game and fourth overall, averaging 425.5 yards. Ainge is second in total offense (256 ypg) and third in passing efficiency (140.8 passer rating). Tailback Arian Foster is sixth with an average of 89 yards per game and has rushed for 294 yards and five touchdowns during Tennessee's winning streak.

Perhaps the one stat that most shows how proficient the Vols' offense has been is the number of sacks allowed. They lead the nation with two in six games. Four teams have allowed four.

``The receivers are where they're supposed to be, Erik does a great job knowing where the problems are, feeling pressure, getting it off with a quick release, and the line's done a good job of protecting,'' Fulmer said.

With all that time, Ainge has been able to look downfield to his young receiving corps. That has paid off for Lucas Taylor, who had career highs of 11 catches for 186 yards against Mississippi State. The yardage was the third-best single-game performance for Tennessee since 2000.

Ainge found Taylor for a 51-yard touchdown and hit him with a 26-yard pass near the end of the first half that set up a momentum-changing field goal.

``He deserves everything he gets,'' Ainge said of the junior. ``He is the hardest working kid I've seen in my entire life. He doesn't say much, he just gets the job done. I would throw to him for the rest of my career if I could.''

Taylor has emerged from the shadow left by Robert Meachem, a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. He leads the SEC and is 12th nationally in receiving yards per game with 103. He's second in the SEC and 21st nationally in catches per game with 6.8.

Fulmer said Taylor's emergence has been a surprise.

``I don't know that anybody expected that,'' Fulmer said. ``Lucas has been a good player since he's been here. Even as a freshman, you could see flashes of his talent.

``It's pretty good right now, pretty special. Lucas is having one of those great years.''

The same thing can be said for Ainge, Fulmer said when asked if the senior should be considered among the nation's best quarterbacks.

``Every Monday when we have a boatload of pro scouts come through here, I think they probably do, too,'' he said.

Source:; Photo Credit: SEC Sports