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UCLA FYI

Tennessee has a newbie at quarterback too

September 01, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

UCLA isn't alone in testing the 2008 waters with a quarterback who may face a sink-or-swim situation this season.

Tennessee will trot Jonathan Crompton onto the field, where he finally may live up to the expectations heaped on him as a high school senior in 2004. He has spent the last three years waiting for this chance, during which he spent some time in the doghouse of former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, now Duke's head coach.

Crompton has found Dave Clawson -- the Volunteers' new offensive coordinator -- and his multi-formation system much more user friendly.

"I think overall everybody has more confidence in the offense," Crompton said. "We got everything put in a few weeks ago and we have been honing a few plays to focus on the season opener.

"It's still the game of football that I've played since the second grade."

The same questions as well.

After three seasons, Crompton will get a shot at proving he is the player who rated all the hype in high school -- some ranked him the third-best quarterback nationally behind Mark Sanchez (now at USC) and Ryan Perrilloux, who was dismissed from the Louisiana State team and transferred to Jacksonville State in Alabama.

The upsides to Crompton were seen when he relieved injured starter Erik Ainge against LSU in 2006. He threw for 183 yards and two long touchdowns in a 28-24 loss.

The downsides were on display a week later, when he had three passes intercepted in a 31-14 loss to Arkansas.

Crompton, limited to mop-up duty in 2007, has improved, Coach Phillip Fulmer said.

"He handles the huddle and the clock like a veteran, and in some ways he is," Fulmer said. "He has had a ton of snaps and in two games played a significant role. We're pleased with the progress. He is taking care of the ball and doing things much better."

The new offensive system helps, Crompton said. Clawson's offense plays to Crompton's strengths as a runner as well as a passer. It helps that Tennessee's offensive line returns four starters, plus a fifth player who started six games.

Crompton will also have Arian Foster, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2007, at his disposal, and three receivers who caught at least 56 passes last season -- Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe.

"The offense is very, very versatile," Crompton said. "You can get anybody the ball any time in the game. Our goal is to set tempo. With all the athletes we have, we should be able to do what we want to."

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Opening nights

Rick Neuheisel makes his UCLA coaching debut tonight. Since World War II, Bruins coaches are 2-7-1 in their first games. The only ones to come away with a victory were Red Sanders, who beat Oregon State in 1949, and Terry Donahue, who beat third-ranked Arizona State in 1976.

Quarterbacks, on the other hand, have had better luck, something Bruins starter Kevin Craft can take comfort in. Since Gary Beban left after the 1967 season, 17 quarterbacks have made their first UCLA start in the season opener and have a record of 12-5.

One quarterback who didn't have much success in an opener was Neuheisel. When the Bruins opened the 1983 season at Georgia, Neuheisel received a pregame omen from the team's bulldog mascot.

"Uga threw up on my cleats during warmups," Neuheisel said. "I threw four interceptions."

Things got better. Neuheisel led UCLA to the Rose Bowl and was named the game's MVP.

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Injury update

Tennessee will be without defensive tackle Chase Nelson (knee), tight end Jeff Cottam (back) and fullback David Holbert (knee). Defensive end Chris Walker (groin) and fullback Austin Johnson (ankle) are expected to play.

Defensive back Brent Vinson and defensive tackle Donald Langley have been suspended for this game for academic reasons.

UCLA will be without linebacker Joshua Edwards (foot) and tackle Mike Harris (ankle). Tackle Micah Kia (hand) and wide receivers Terrence Austin (wrist) and Taylor Embree (shoulder) are expected to play.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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