Through four years at the University of Tennessee, Daryl Dickey had participated in 44 plays.

Even he knew he wasn't part of the Volunteers' plan, and before this -- his fifth season -- willingly sacrificed part of his practice time for the incoming freshmen quarterbacks.

Five games into the season, it would have taken a crystal ball to see him in a major role when Tennessee plays Miami in Wednesday's Sugar Bowl here in the Louisiana Superdome.

But a knee injury to Tennessee's record-setting quarterback Tony Robinson in the fifth game threw Dickey into action. And all Dickey did was set two school records and keep the Volunteers on track for a Southeastern Conference championship and their first trip to the Sugar Bowl since 1969.

"We lose the best athlete I've ever seen at quarterback, the best quarterback I've ever been around," Coach Johnny Majors said today. "We lose him and it seems like our chances to win the (SEC) championship are shattered. There's no way you can expect a young man to do what Daryl did. It's just tremendous."

Dickey says he had been around so long that he should be able to coach the offense, and certainly play it. "I was confident all along I could be successful," he said.

Dickey isn't fast and doesn't have that strong an arm. He completed only one of five passes in the last 14 minutes of the Alabama game, but Tennessee held the lead Robinson had helped build, and won, 16-14.

In the last six games, Dickey didn't have one bad performance. In a 6-6 tie with Georgia Tech, he completed 16 of 22 passes. He was 16 for 21 in a 40-0 victory over Rutgers; 11 for 17 for three touchdowns against Kentucky; 22 for 30, 299 yards and three more touchdowns against Vanderbilt in the 30-0 victory that gave Tennessee the SEC title.

His percentage of completed passes (64.9) set a school record. And his 106 consecutive passes without an interception set another.

He says he was doing only what the coaches asked. "My responsibility this year was to be a disciplined, high-percentage, low-risk quarterback," he said.

In the process, he threw 10 touchdown passes and one interception (a receiver ran the wrong pattern). Dickey seems genuinely unfazed by his success.

He came to Tennessee in 1981, with -- by his count -- eight other freshman quarterbacks. Six more, including Robinson, enrolled the next year, when Dickey was redshirted. Dickey knew he would be sitting, not playing. His father Doug, who coached Tennessee to its last Sugar Bowl appearance, had returned to the university over the summer as the director of athletics.

Doug Dickey kept telling his son: "Something good will come for you if you're patient." As Robinson got better and better, Dickey thought: "If the good things were not of playing, then they would be of learning."

Perhaps the ultimate test of patience came last spring, when it was obvious that it didn't make much sense to give much practice time to a backup senior who wasn't going to play.

"It wasn't like I said, 'Here, guys, take my practice time,' " Dickey said. "I didn't want to underestimate my ability. But I knew somebody would have to play next year, and the younger guys needed the work.

"I wanted to work on my own game, but I knew what was best for the program and I tried to remind myself of that from time to time when I got frustrated."

Majors didn't look to one of those freshmen when Robinson, Dickey's road roommate and close friend, was injured. Majors says he didn't dramatically change his offense. And when asked if the offense is more conservative now, Dickey said: "My play may be conservative, but not the entire team's play."

It's very likely that Wednesday's Sugar Bowl will be the last time he throws a competitive pass. He is contemplating a coaching career.

He is careful to say that he is not the reason Tennessee is here, that Robinson "fixed us up where we could go to the Sugar Bowl."

Robinson, who has spent his week hobbling around the French Quarter on crutches, said earlier this week: "I started it, Daryl finished it. That's fine. We're here."