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What SMQ Said About Erik Ainge...

Not apropos of the following post, but I feel the need to mention: I absolutely loved the orange pants Saturday. not for every game, mind you, but as a change-up now and then. It was the perfect time for them, and I hope Phil doesn't get so superstitious as to leave them in the closet for another eight years just because we lost. Go Vols.


On Sunday, if you didn't catch it, SMQ had the following take on the SEC Championship and Erik Ainge's performance, after explaining how surprisingly well the defense played and posting an ugly, ugly YouTube of Ainge's pick-six:

It wasn't only that throw, although it was the killer that will haunt his legacy as the starting quarterback as much as the underhand surrender throw from the end zone in Baton Rouge in 2005. At least was only a sophomore then, in a hostile environment - I've defended Ainge the last two years and thought he would be at the core of all of Tennessee's success, but Saturday, on a neutral field, he still looked like a bewildered underclassman reading defenses...

On the drive before Beckwith's pick, seeking the tying touchdown and facing what could have been a do-or-die fourth down in LSU territory, Ainge put the ball behind an open receiver on a crossing route, who couldn't adjust for the catch. At one point in the third quarter, when it appeared Lucas Taylor was coming around for a reverse (or reverse action), Ainge was oblivious to him, faked a handoff up the middle, rolled the other way, had no one downfield and threw the ball away out of bounds, one of roughly a half dozen times on the night Danielson had to say something along the lines of "That's Ainge's fault" or "Ainge has to be better." Which sums up his career - one that began with an SEC Championship loss, and now ends with an SEC Championship loss - in a neat nutshell: he never really got much better.

I don't know, there's a lot in there I agree with... but it still doesn't ring entirely ture. I do think that, right or wrong, Ainge's legacy will in fact be the underhanded Throw of Death in Baton Rouge and the two picks in this game. It's totally unfair to blame the SECCG loss on Ainge solely... but those were two really bad throws at the worst possible time of the game. I'm afraid that's what people will remember years from now, not the comeback against Florida in '04 or the turnaround against Alabama in '06; or the seven touchdowns against Kentucky or the wins against Georgia... so on and so forth.

I don't buy that Ainge "never really got much better." I think most of us would agree that the 2006/2007 vintage of Ainge was much improved over what we saw in '05. Add that this year, he was limited by injury and a receiving corps that, while game, will not be remembered alongside the best in UT history. He did what he could with what he had, and I'm not sure it's fair to expect much more than that.

But my mind keeps going back to those were two really bad throws. Why Ainge regressed to that state in this game we'll never know, just like we'll never know why Bill Buckner didn't keep his glove down against the Mets in '86 or why Chris Webber called timeout when he didn't have any. Sometimes these things happen at the worst possible time, even to really good players.

Overall, I think Ainge's career is sort of like the 2007 season: sometimes frustrating, sometimes brilliant, in some ways much more than what was expected at the outset, and still somehow disappointing in light of the glimpses of promise that often shone through. In the end though, it was pretty dang entertaining, and that's why I love Tennessee football and guys like Ainge -- it's the best form of entertainment I can possibly imagine.

Go Vols.