Erik Ainge had significant action in nine games overall and was the key reason for Tennessee football winning the SEC East in 2004 despite being predicted to finish third in their division. Ainge and fellow freshman Brent Schaeffer split time at the beginning of the year, but Ainge emerged as the main guy soon enough.
He played the whole second half in a shootout against the Florida Gators and led the game-winning field goal drive. Three weeks later, Ainge led the Vols to Athens and shocked the No. 3 ranked Georgia Bulldogs. A game-winning drive to beat the Ole Miss Rebels on the road and close wins over the Alabama Crimson Tide and South Carolina Gamecocks followed.
A season-ending injury against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish cost the Vols that game and resulted in Rick Clausen finishing the season, and Clausen had some nice games. But Ainge’s play won the East, and he set what was at the time the passing touchdown record for UT true freshmen with 17. Add in only 9 interceptions, and he had a very efficient freshman campaign.
Clausen had more efficient numbers than Ainge his freshman year. But Ainge had a higher degree of difficulty by facing Florida and Georgia, so that’s why he’s so much higher. Although his sophomore year was a major drop-off, this season was a big success.