The Tennessee Volunteers’ start to the 2008 season looks eerily similar to their start to the 2007 season, which, if the Vols’ successful second half of 2007 and subsequent SEC East title is any indication, isn’t such a bad thing.
Look a little deeper, though, and things don’t look nearly as promising this year for one simple reason: Jonathan Crompton is not Erik Ainge.
This sobering fact has become clear to Tennessee fans who thought Crompton was ready to be the next successful Volunteer quarterback, and it has become clear pretty quickly.
Crompton does have talent, as he has shown that he is capable of moving the Tennessee offense down the field. But he has yet to show a knack for making plays in big situations, whether they are plays that keep drives going or plays that put critical points on the board—in other words, the kinds of plays that determine who wins and who loses.
He has only played two meaningful games, but unfortunately you don’t get much time to acclimate to your surroundings in college football. If Crompton and the Vols lose this week against the Auburn Tigers (another team in a virtual must-win situation), they will have little to no chance of competing for the SEC crown.
So how can the Vols beat the No. 15 team in the country, on the road, with a quarterback who isn’t quite ready for the spotlight? By keeping the offensive playbook as simple as possible.
This isn’t likely to be a high-scoring game—Auburn beat Mississippi State 3-2 two weeks ago—so it will be important to establish the run, get decent time of possession numbers, and limit turnovers. This is the most important thing Crompton can do: If he turns the ball over, Tennessee will lose.
Which is why Offensive Coordinator Dave Clawson shouldn’t give him the chance. The Vols have plenty of athletes—running backs Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty and wide receiver Gerald Jones to name a few—who are capable of making plays in the open field. Tennessee should just look to get the ball in these guys’ hands in space through underneath routes, swing passes, or even direct snaps.
If the Volunteers can catch Auburn off-guard a bit in the beginning of the game with some different looks and formations, they may be able to build and sustain a lead in a low-scoring game; their goal should be to win this game by a score something along the lines of 17-13.
More importantly, Tennessee needs to figure out how to handle its quarterback situation quickly. Otherwise, with Alabama, Georgia, and a pesky Vanderbilt team still on the schedule, the Vols could be in for a long year.