Tinseltown has always been a place that embraces a good melodrama, and so it is fitting that the quarterback saga of Tennessee was played out last Saturday at the Rose Bowl during a 25-23 loss to UCLA. With the Vols' big star of recent years, Heath Shuler, gone to the NFL, the team came into its season opener intent on establishing once and for all who its new leading man was—but left with a handful of stand-ins chewing the scenery.
The plot thickened 3� minutes into the game, when starting quarterback Jerry Colquitt tore ligaments in his left knee, putting him out for perhaps the rest of the season. Colquitt, a fifth-year senior, had served patiently as Shuler's understudy for the last two seasons and had won the starting job with a stellar preseason. With Colquitt down, junior Todd Helton came on in relief, a familiar role for the fireballing closer on the school's baseball team. Still, Helton said after the game, "being thrown in there like that was a little more than I bargained for." He looked ragged running three fruitless series and was replaced by ballyhooed freshman Peyton Manning late in the second quarter.
This was a bold casting choice by coach Phillip Fulmer, as he has taken great pains to lower expectations for Manning and for the Vols' other prized freshman quarterback, Branndon Stewart. After three handoffs and a punt, Manning was back on the bench, but his cameo was important to him nonetheless. "I was happy they put me in after Helton," Manning said. "That meant a lot to me, that they now consider me the Number 2 guy."
Well, just who the No. 2 guy is depends on which superfreshman you ask. "It's not when you play, it's how," said Stewart, who played well during his one stint, in the third quarter. He led a 13-play drive that featured a pair of laserlike throws for first downs, but the Vols came up empty when Todd Becksvoort missed a 48-yard field goal.
Helton returned to play the entire fourth quarter, displaying some true grit and athleticism in leading Tennessee to three touchdowns. Fulmer later declared that Helton would "absolutely" be the starter for this week's game against Georgia, hoping to stifle the swirling talk of a quarterback controversy. But in what sounds suspiciously like a scripted stab at suspense. Fulmer added, "There are a number of scenarios that can play themselves out this week. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
Fashioned by Amani
Tyrone Wheatley squeezed out one broad smile as he walked off the field on Saturday at Michigan Stadium after the Wolverines' 34-26 victory over Boston College, his right arm strapped to his chest to aid the healing of his dislocated shoulder. "I'm glad someone else got the chance to play against that Boston College defense instead of me," said Wheatley.
The Eagles, sensing a weakness in Michigan's strong ground game with Wheatley absent, committed their defense to stuffing the run. For a half it worked, as they held the Wolverines to just 45 yards on 17 carries. But in taking away the run, BC gave up the pass. Twice, Michigan junior wideout Amani Toomer roamed into the zone vacated by the Eagles' run-conscious linebackers, caught short curls from quarterback Todd Collins and turned them into long touchdowns. On the day, Toomer caught seven passes for 179 yards. Said Toomer after the game, "The way they were trying to take away the run—our entire receiving corps took that as an insult."