Following a stagnant performance in last year’s Outback Bowl, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe generated buzz when he decided that this year was the right time for the Vols to re-implement the no-huddle offense. While many thought that Cutcliffe was just using the offense as a tool to increase the tempo at spring practice, the Vols have continued to use the scheme throughout the fall and will likely utilize it at California this Saturday. The first team offense used the no-huddle exclusively in their final scrimmage Wednesday, and the Vols have used the offense to some extent in all of their scrimmages this fall. The offense is designed to allow senior quarterback Erik Ainge additional time to make changes at the line of scrimmage in order to exploit the defense better. It should also make it more difficult for the Vols’ opponents to substitute while Tennessee has the ball, resulting in mismatches and tiring the opposing defense. Both Cutcliffe and head coach Phillip Fulmer said that this should allow Tennessee to tire opponents and to win games in the fourth quarter. Last season, UT surrendered fourth quarter leads in losses to Florida and LSU.
Cutcliffe used the no-huddle last in 1997. The decision to return to the offense this year speaks volumes about his confidence in the Vols’ senior quarterback. Ainge said that he is simply an extension of Cutcliffe on the field. He and Cutcliffe have spent hours watching film together and Ainge has grown adept to recognizing different defensive formations and how to react to them best. “I know what he’s going to call, and I make the choices that he essentially would be making,” Ainge said, following Wednesday’s scrimmage.
Fulmer went so far as to compare Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge to Lady Vols basketball phenom Candace Parker this summer. He said that he believes Ainge could be the determining factor that leads UT to win a championship this year in the same way that Parker led the Lady Vols to a national title this past season. So far, Ainge has not disappointed his coach.
“He’s making good decisions, throwing the ball accurately, running the team, managing the clock -- doing the things a senior quarterback ought to do,” Fulmer said. “That’s a real plus, especially when you start going into hostile environments like Cal and Florida.” While the Vols have the luxury of a veteran quarterback and offensive line, they are inexperienced at wide receiver, a critical area to the success of the no-huddle scheme. The Vols will place the added mental responsibilities of the no-huddle formation on the shoulders of sophomore Austin Rogers and junior Lucas Taylor, two of the teams veteran receivers. The no huddle formation, however, is designed to counteract Tennessee’s lack of a proven playmaker at receiver by creating mismatches in the defensive secondary and by allowing veteran receivers to find openings and give some of the younger receivers an opportunity to showcase their athleticism. During last week’s final scrimmage freshman Ahmad Paige showed some of the athletic ability when he provided one of the game’s highlights with an 88-yard touchdown reception down the left side of the field. With inexperience at wide receiver, the Vols have had to rely heavily on their tight ends. Senior Chris Brown returns as the team’s leading receiver from last season. He and sophomore Jeff Cottam will have to battle the loss of senior Brad Cottam for two to three months.