Alabama plotting ways to reach well-protected Ainge Print
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Thursday, 18 October 2007 10:42
NCAAF Headline News

 TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -Wallace Gilberry has a simple plan for chasing after the hard-to-sack Erik Ainge: Keep trying.
And trying.
Gilberry and Alabama have been hard on opposing quarterbacks lately, but Tennessee's Ainge is the nation's best-protected passer coming into Saturday's visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
``We're just going to keep coming and keep coming,'' said Gilberry, a Crimson Tide defensive end. ``And if we're not sacking him, hopefully we're hitting him. Eventually those hits will hopefully start taking their toll on him.''
Then again, Ainge has attempted 218 consecutive passes without being sacked and the No. 20 Volunteers (4-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) have allowed only two sacks all season.
It's no wonder Alabama (5-2, 3-1) is determined to get to him somehow, an exercise in futility and frustration for defenses all season. The Tide does have nine sacks in the past two games, including four by Gilberry.
Getting to Ainge in time presents more of a challenge.
``He's smart, he knows where he wants to go with the ball,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ``He's not going to let you sack him either, even when he does get pressure. If you bring a blitz off of one side and he's got a hot receiver, he gets him the ball.''
Ainge is also 9-2 in SEC road games.
Alabama's John Parker Wilson, meanwhile, has spent a little more time on the ground. He was sacked four times last week in a win over Mississippi, but Saban still called it the best performance in the quarterback's up-and-down season.
Now, Ainge and Wilson enter the kind of rivalry game where QBs can either endear themselves to fans for years or guarantee themselves some particularly heartfelt criticism.
``I think both quarterbacks will be significant in this ball game,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. ``Erik continues to play really well for us. Sometimes, quarterbacks get more credit and criticism than they deserve. In Erik's case, we really appreciate the job he has done throughout the year.''
Tide defenders think Ainge hasn't been just physically untouchable, but also unflappable. After all, he threw three interceptions in last season's game but still led the Vols to 10 fourth-quarter points and a 16-13 victory.
``He didn't take a step back,'' Alabama linebacker Darren Mustin said. ``He just shook it off and kept going. He's a great player. He kept going.''
Wilson has kept going, too. Criticized for inconsistent play and lauded for leading a game-winning drive against Arkansas, he helped Alabama to a 27-24 win at Ole Miss last weekend.
He completed a season-high 65 percent of his passes for 265 yards. Saban said it was his best all-around game in passing, decision-making and managing the offense.
``It probably was the most consistent, best performance,'' Saban said. ``He did a lot of little things in the game that no one noticed that were helpful to the offense being successful.''
Wilson, meanwhile, was OK with the fact that he didn't throw a touchdown pass. He said it reinforces offensive coordinator Major Applewhite's counsel to take what the defense gives you, in small chunks if necessary, instead of trying to force big plays.
``Coach Applewhite always tells us, 'John Elway said, don't get bored with throwing a 2-yard pass,''' Wilson said.
``Touchdown passes are great, but when you can run it in from a yard, we'll take it. If I don't throw a touchdown, it's great. I'd rather win and throw for zero than lose and throw four,'' he added.
Fulmer said Wilson has ``continued to grow up,'' showing a strong arm, good vision and scrambling abilities.
``He is a guy we will have to deal with, the best quarterback we have played in several weeks,'' Fulmer said.
 

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