Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer has this: “I think Erik has a lot of the same qualities that Peyton Manning had when he came in as a freshman and sophomore.” And this: “Our wide receiver group as a whole should be one of the best in the league.” And this: “Our offensive line I expect to be as good as have had at Tennessee.”
Donnan made his comment at a booster club meeting, saying he had waited his entire life to coach a team as talented as Georgia’s 2000 squad. That team went 8-4, and Donnan was fired.
Fulmer’s comments were made this year at SEC Media Days, and there are some key differences between them and Donnan’s comment. First, Fulmer won’t be fired no matter what the Volunteers’ record is this year. Second, Tennessee still has time not to make a liar out of its coach.
The No. 5 Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) just hope it’s not this week. Georgia, a three-point underdog, plays the No. 8 Volunteers (3-1, 2-1 SEC) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Until this point, the offense that Fulmer lauded two months ago has been a bust. Sophomore quarterback Erik Ainge, billed as the Vols’ future, is now part of the past. He has looked awful at times and been benched in favor of senior Rick Clausen, who will start against the Bulldogs. Fulmer said he will come into the game with no plans to insert Ainge, even if Clausen struggles, but there have been very few definites for the Vols this year.
Both quarterbacks played in the first three games. The only game in which one took every snap was last week, when Clausen completed 18 of 35 passes for 206 yards and no touchdowns.
That’s been a pretty typical line for a Vol quarterback this season. Tennessee is 10th in the 12-team SEC in scoring offense (20.2 ppg) and eighth in total offense (330.8 ypg). The numbers are even more startling on a national scale, where the Volunteers are 90th in total offense and 93rd in scoring offense.
“I do believe plays are out there to be made,” Fulmer said.
So does Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez.
“It’s easy to see it on film,” he said. “There have been opportunities where, if they execute....”
Execution has been the problem for the Vols. When the quarterbacks get the ball to the receivers, the receivers too often drop it. No Tennessee pass catcher is in the league’s top 10 in yards receiving per game.
The offensive line that Fulmer raved about in the preseason hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to be a dominant force. Arron Sears, the most highly touted lineman, has had to play four positions to fill gaps, and Tennessee played three centers against Ole Miss looking for some consistency.
The only stalwart for Tennessee has been running back Gerald Riggs, who is second in the conference with 102.5 rushing yards per game, but even he is getting no help and Tennessee ranks just eight overall in rushing in the SEC.
Still, Georgia’s coaches don’t think they’ll have a tough time convincing their players that the Volunteers’ offense could break out at any moment.
“You look at the tape, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out they’ve got all the ingredients to be as good as anybody we’ve played or are going to play,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “They’re getting ready to take off. I just hope it isn’t Saturday.”
Tennessee’s offense in the SEC
Scoring offense 10th 20.2 ppg
Total offense 8th 330.8 ypg
Passing offense 7th 219.2 ypg
Rushing offense 8th 111.5 ypg
Passing efficiency 10th 101.2 rating