By Bucky Dent
Erik Ainge’s little finger might turn into a big pain for Tennessee’s football team Saturday night at California. Ainge jammed the pinky on his right (throwing) hand during practice Monday. He said the injury won’t keep him from playing, but he wasn’t planning on taking all the snaps in practice Tuesday or today. "Why beat it up when we’re four days away from the game? There’s no use in it," he said yesterday during the Volunteers’ weekly press conference. Backups Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens will get the snaps Ainge doesn’t. Ainge said mentally, he’s prepared to play even if he doesn’t take another practice snap until Saturday night. Ainge said he incurred the injury while practicing handoffs with the running backs. "You know how you snap off a good chest pass in basketball? That’s what it felt like when it happened," said Ainge, a prep basketball star in suburban Portland, Oregon. Ainge has no idea how long the injury will linger or if it will affect him during the game, but after what happened last year, there’s no way he would consider sitting out this week.
In perhaps the best game of his career, Ainge hit 11-of-17 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns as UT embarrassed the Golden Bears 35-18 to kick-start a 9-4 season.
Crompton, who started one game and played most of a second last season when Ainge suffered an injury late in a win at South Carolina, would start if Ainge’s injury worsens.
Ainge said he was treating the finger with a combination of ice and rest.
Colquitt’s diagnosis improves
Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said that kicker/punter Britton Colquitt continues to progress from a quad injury suffered during preseason camp. "I’m hopeful that he’ll be 100 percent by Saturday," Fulmer said. "We still have a decision to make as to whether we risk kicking him off." Unless his injury recurs or worsens before kickoff, Colquitt should be able to handle placements and punts. Fulmer might elect to have freshman Daniel Lincoln kick off to take some stress off Colquitt. The All-Southeastern Conference punter from last year, Colquitt has shown more consistency than Lincoln on field goals and extra points this month. However, Fulmer has been quick to point out lately that he’s been encouraged by Lincoln’s improvement. "I’ve gained confidence in Daniel kicking extra points and field goals, and perhaps even kicking off," Fulmer said. "We’ll see how it shakes out."
Colquitt’s presence could be very valuable as Cal has perhaps the nation’s most explosive return man, DeSean Jackson. A junior, Jackson has five punt return scores in his career, including four last year.
Lack of respect?
One of the major storylines has been Cal’s motivation after absorbing such a thorough beating last year. But a handful of UT players were spouting off yesterday about a lack of respect from Cal players and oddsmakers which have made the Golden Bears a six-point favorite. "Yeah, you’d think after what happened last year, we might get a little more respect than that," Ainge said of the point spread. "I’ve heard some of the things they’ve been saying and I’m not going to talk," defensive tackle Demonte Bolden said without elaborating on the comments from Golden Bear players.
Tennessee got permission from the NCAA to leave Thursday because it’s traveling across three time zones. Teams are normally required to wait until the day before a game to travel. The school’s equipment truck left yesterday on a 35-hour, 22-minute trip -- most of it on I-40 -- that will last nearly 2,500 miles. The Vols plan to arrive at their Berkeley hotel late Thursday or early Friday morning, then hold a 5 p.m. walkthrough Friday at Memorial Stadium.
Kickoff time Saturday night has been set for 8:13 p.m. ABC is sending its lead announce team of Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit and Lisa Salters ... Fulmer is encouraged about his team’s emerging depth in the offensive line. Besides starters Eric Young (LT), Anthony Parker (LG), Josh McNeil (C), Chris Scott (RG) and Ramon Foster (RT), Fulmer has identified guards Vladimir Richard and Jacques McClendon, as well as center Michael Frogg, as being game-ready ... Backup middle linebacker Ellix Wilson (knee) practiced Monday and is expected to play at Cal ... As many as 12 freshman out of 80 players could make the cross-country trip.