- Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe talks to the media.
- Quarterback Erik Ainge talks to the media.
- Offensive line coach Greg Adkins talks to the media.
- Defensive end Xavier Mitchell talks to the media.
Tennessee Stat Book
If numbers were all that mattered, maybe David Cutcliffe would be concerned.
But when it comes to evaluating his quarterback's performance, Tennessee's offensive coordinator cares a whole lot more about the bottom line than the box score.
"He's had a really good year," Cutcliffe said of senior quarterback Erik Ainge. "He's done what it takes to win. That's the sign of a good quarterback. He's really managed the game well, knew what we had to do.
"I like that attitude of being a team guy. I think he's done a great job of doing that."
No. 19 Tennessee has won three consecutive games entering Saturday's 2 p.m. kickoff against Vanderbilt (TV: Pay-per-view). It just hasn't won them while racking up Peyton Manning-like numbers through the air
The past two weeks, Ainge has passed for just 253 yards while completing 28 of his 48 passes.
But the Vols won both games, and that's what matters, says Ainge.
"Every quarterback wants to throw," said Ainge, who ranks third in the SEC with 226 passing yards per game. "They'd be lying if they said they didn't want to throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns every week. They'd also be lying if they said they'd rather do that than win.
"We've had games where we've thrown it 40 times and won, and we've had games where we've thrown it 20 times and won. These last couple weeks, we've done what we needed to do to win. I'm 100 percent all about that."
The winning formula for the Vols has usually been on the ground.
Against Arkansas, the Vols ran 43 times for 151 yards, all in the name of time of possession.
Against Louisiana-Lafayette, Tennessee could have chosen where to pile up the yards.
It chose to run the ball 39 times for 273 yards.
And against Georgia, UT ran the ball 44 times for 190 yards.
UT even ran for 42 times for 211 in a victory over Mississippi State.
The biggest exception in UT's wins this season was South Carolina, when Ainge got away from his usual mechanics while throwing for 216 yards on 26-of-44 passing.
"He had one game, South Carolina, that he didn't throw the ball, physically throw the ball, as well as he had been throwing it," Cutcliffe said. "He's fine. Actually he's throwing the ball better than he was early, just because he's healing a little bit (from a broken finger)."
While Ainge's totals the past two weeks have been his lowest in terms of completions (16 and 12) and yards (125 and 128) this season, he hasn't thrown an interception and has three touchdowns to his credit.
"We're running the ball a lot more than we did earlier in the season, so of course his numbers are going to be a little bit down," said receiver Josh Briscoe. "It's not how many times you throw the ball, it's just the plays that you make when you do throw it."
Ainge's fingerprints are even turning up in the run game.
That past two weeks, Ainge has had the most control of his career on run plays.
"Even though we may not be throwing it down the field and we may not be throwing it as much, from an overall quarterbacking standpoint, I still feel like I'm making big strides and doing a lot of good things," Ainge says.
"The game plan is the biggest issue. We've found our niche, our way to run the football. I think we've kind of found a good medium in winning football games. And until teams change what they're doing, we should be able to continue to run the football."
And if running the ball and controlling the clock is what helps the Vols win, that's what Cutcliffe will do. Even if it might not be his first choice.
"My nature's to be really aggressive, but my nature's to like winning," he said. "I like winning a whole lot more than I like being aggressive."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.