April 8, 2006

Vols scale back in spring game

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Tennessee ran its spring game like a lab experiment, trying to create a controlled environment to test its subjects.

The Volunteers chopped the offensive playbook in half and scaled the defense back even more in Saturday's Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium.

The formula worked, and the Volunteers coaching staff even welcomed a little explosiveness after a 5-6 season in 2005.

Wide receiver Robert Meachem caught five passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Erik Ainge. At the same time, the two defensive teams combined for six sacks and an interception.

The White team, led on offense by Ainge and Meachem and on defense by six first-teamers, defeated the Orange team 34-7.

"We weren't as aggressive as we'd normally be because of what we were trying to do," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "The scrimmage came out how we wanted."

Injuries to three running backs, including starter Arian Foster, meant both sides would have to hold back. The defense didn't blitz, and the offense was limited to short and intermediate passes. Even so, Meachem came out with a big day.

Meachem scored the first touchdown of the game on a 27-yard catch-and-run. He topped that with a 70-yard touchdown catch when he broke three tackles on the way to the end zone. The touchdown was 17 yards longer than the Volunteers' longest pass play last year.

"I haven't had a long run in a long time," said Meachem, who was the team's leading receiver last year with 383 yards. "It felt so good. My mom told me I had a blessing coming today. It was just my day."

Ainge, who in his first two seasons competed with Brent Schaeffer and Rick Clausen for the starting job, looked more comfortable as the clear-cut No. 1. The junior was 14-of-22 for 210 yards and the two scores.

Despite positive strides, it wasn't a perfect day for Ainge. He overthrew Meachem in the end zone on what could have been his third touchdown. He also drew the ire of Fulmer by taking two sacks.

"We didn't do very much (on offense)," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "We tried to manage ourselves. For the most part I'm pleased with Erik the way he managed the game and his accuracy."

The defense had its moments as well.

While the Volunteers are replacing six starters in the front seven, the replacements on the line combined for six sacks and two fumble recoveries. Redshirt freshman linebacker Rico McCoy, returning from foot surgery last year, capped his standout spring with six solo tackles. Cornerback Jonathan Wade added an interception off Bo Hardegree.

"You saw about a quarter of the defense," Ainge said. "The offense had a little bit of an advantage. It came down to execution."

For more coverage of the Tennessee Volunteers, check out VolQuest.com.


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