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Ainge returns to lift Tennessee over Vanderbilt

Nov 18, 2006 - 9:09 PM NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Erik Ainge made sure that Tennessee returned to form against Vanderbilt.

Ainge threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns in his return from injury as the 22nd-ranked Volunteers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 39-10 victory over the Commodores in a Southeastern Conference contest.

Missing the last seven quarters in losses to Louisiana State and Arkansas due to an ankle injury, Ainge displayed very little rust, completing 21-of-26 passes.

"It was very nice to have Erik because for one, he is taller, and he knows a little bit more than (Jonathan) Crompton," Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem said.

With his yardage total, Ainge moved past Tee Martin for fifth on the school's all-time passing list with 4,671.

"Look at (Ainge's) numbers all year long," Volunteers coach Philip Fulmer said. "If he hadn't gotten injured, he'd have a chance to be the all-conference quarterback."

Despite the junior quarterback's solid performance, Tennessee (7-3, 4-3 SEC East) could not fully cash in on a pair of first-quarter drives, settling for field goals by James Wilhoit.

The early defensive stands appeared to encourage Vanderbilt (4-8, 1-7 East), which was looking for consecutive wins against Tennessee for the first time in 80 years after shocking the Vols, 28-24, in Knoxville last season.

Despite losing four of their previous six games, the Commodores grabbed a 7-6 lead six minutes into the second quarter when Chris Nickson found George Smith for a seven-yard touchdown.

Not wanting Vanderbilt to think another win might be possible, Ainge quickly led Tennessee down the field on a six-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a eight-yard TD by freshman running back LaMarcus Coker with 6:30 left.

After the Commodores went three-and-out on their next possession, Ainge drove the Vols again, tossing a six-yard score to Jayson Swain for a 19-7 edge with 23 seconds before halftime.

"We started off well, but Tennessee came on and played a great game," Vanderbilt linebacker Kevin Joyce said. "They're a better team. We had a lot of guys playing injured and a lot of the younger guys trying to step up, but that's no excuse. They played more physical."

Tennessee continued to roll after that as Coker ripped off an 87-yard run in the third quarter and Ainge found Meachem for a 17-yard TD to make it 36-7 a minute into the fourth.

"It was a zone play to the left side," Coker said of his long run. "I hit it up between the tackle and the guard and Meacham was over there split out wide and cut him man off. That let me get to the sideline and it was basically off to the races after that."

Coker finished with 10 rushes for 126 yards and Meachem had seven catches for 95 yards for the Vols, who finished with 429 yards of total offense.

Nickson finished just 10-of-23 for 97 yards with two interceptions for Vanderbilt, which has not beaten Tennessee here since 1964.

Nickson also rushed 13 times for 52 yards as the Commodores finished up with just 218 total yards in their season finale.

"I don't feel like we reached our potential this season," the redshirt sophomore quarterback said. "I felt like we had a decent season and had some good wins. I would have like to do some bigger and better things."

Tennessee will host its finale next week against Kentucky.

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