Tuesday, September 27, 2005

So, About That Starting Quarterback...

Just a few days ago, Phillip Fulmer named Eric Ainge the starter for the LSU game, and
indeed, for the rest of the season - intending to shelve the two-quarterback system that had worked so well for us against UAB and Florida, and provide some stability to the team.
Ainge started the opener and then came off the bench against Florida while rotating with Rick Clausen. Partly as a result, Ainge has not looked as sharp and sometimes confused. But this week coach Phillip Fulmer finally settled on Ainge as the quarterback.

Um, what now?

Clausen storms back
Clausen, who began his career at LSU and then transferred to Tennessee, came off the bench to rally the Vols into a 24-24 tie by passing for one touchdown and running for another, then getting James Wilhoit in position to kick a 28-yard field goal with 2:02 to play.
What does Fulmer do? The easy answer, of course, is to start Rick against Ole Miss on Saturday... but that's what happened against Florida and he was ineffective and was benched finally for Ainge - who, while he didn't tear up the turf in that game was nonetheless more effective than Clausen. So Ainge got the starting nod at LSU and, well, we see what happened then.

Do we keep switching starters around, based on what they did the previous game? Based on evidence over the last three games, each starter was pulled and the backup finished the game - will that repeat itself Saturday, and throughout the season? And what kind of message does it send to the team when a coach declares a kid the rest-of-the-season starter, then yanks him the next game?

It was perfectly fine for Fulmer start Ainge Monday night, and even fine for him to announce the end to the two-quarterback rotation. But in my opinion naming Ainge starter-for-life (so to speak) was a mistake that might cost him some morale points and some respect.

So does he effectively break his word and start Clausen Saturday against Ole Miss? He probably should. Should Ainge still play? I think so, if the game is in hand. But that doesn't repair some of the damage Fulmer's broken promise will have.

I like Rick and enjoy watching him play. I hope he gets the chance to compete and excel this his senior season. But if he's stinking up the joint, I hope they put in Ainge. But more than that, I hope someone develops enough of a consistency to be the number one guy from here on out.

Good luck.

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