There's no doubt that Jonathan Crompton
, Nick Stephens
and B. J. Coleman
performed poorly last fall. They combined to complete just 49.5 percent of their passes for a mere 1,750 yards with more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8).
Crompton, who started the first four games and the last two, completed just 51.5 percent of his passes for 889 yards with 4 TDs and 5 interceptions.
Stephens, who started the middle six games, completed a paltry 48.5 percent for 840 yards with 4 TDs and 3 interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Coleman saw action at Vanderbilt, completing 4 of 8 passes for 21 yards with no TDs and one interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Neither Crompton, Stephens nor Coleman reminded anyone of Peyton Manning last fall. But, as a group, they did remind long-time Vol watchers such as myself of 1971 and 1980. Those years gave us perhaps the worst quarterback play in Tennessee's modern football history.
The 1971 season saw Big Orange struggle though a transition season between two-year starter Bobby Scott (1969-70) and three-year starter Condredge Holloway (1972-74).
Phil Pierce peaked by leading a 99-yard game-winning touchdown drive in a 20-13 Game 3 victory at Florida. Pierce eventually surrendered the job, however, after completing just 11 of 31 passes (35.5 percent) for 126 yards with 4 interceptions and just 1 touchdown.
Dennis Chadwick also struggled with his passing, completing just 14 of 39 (36 percent) for 281 yards with 3 interceptions and 1 TD.
Chip Howard got a few relief opportunities but went 0 for 7 with an interception.
More out of desperation than inspiration, head coach Bill Battle turned to career backup Jim "Blue Max" Maxwell. Incredibly, he rallied the team to a 10-2 finish and a No. 9 national ranking, despite completing just 45 percent of his passes (46 of 102) for 544 yards with 8 interceptions and just 1 TD pass.
As a group, Pierce, Chadwick, Howard and Maxwell combined to complete just 71 of 179 passes (39.7 percent) for 951 yards, with 16 interceptions and only 3 TDs.
That gets my vote as the worst-quarterbacked team in modern Vol history ... its 10-2 record notwithstanding.
Second place goes to the 1980 squad that finished 5-6. Jeff Olszewski completed 11 consecutive passes in a 42-0 Game 4 win at Auburn that may have been the most perfect performance in program history. Olszewski connected on just 50 percent of the other 64 passes he threw that fall, however, surrendering the first-team job after going 43 of 75 (57.3 percent) for 594 yards with 4 TDs and 4 interceptions.
Junior college transfer Steve Alatorre eventually wrested the job from Olszewski and kept it the rest of the '80 season, despite completing just 48.7 percent of his passes (58 of 119) for 747 yards with 10 interceptions and only 5 TDs. Alatorre retained the job in '81 and concluded his career on a high note, passing for 315 yards in the Vols' Garden State Bowl defeat of Wisconsin.
Although the quarterback play in 2008 probably ranks third on this list, it wasn't significantly worse than in 2005, when Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen shared the job in another 5-6 season.
Ainge started the first three outings but lost the job when Clausen came off the bench in Game 3 to turn a 21-0 deficit into a 30-27 overtime win at LSU. Clausen started Games 4, 5 and 6 but relinquished the reins after going 1-2. Ainge started Games 7 and 8, lost both, then returned to the bench. Clausen won Game 9 vs. Memphis but lost Game 10 to Vanderbilt, enabling Ainge to reclaim the job in time for the season finale at Kentucky.
The tag-team approach to quarterback play failed miserably. Ainge completed just 45.5 percent of his passes with more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5). Clausen, who lacked the arm strength to stretch a defense, completed 57.4 percent with 6 interceptions and 6 TDs.
Bottom line: Tennessee's 2008 quarterback play may have been unwatchable but it wasn't unprecedented.
As bad as Tennessee's quarterback play was in 2008, it could've been worse. In fact, it HAS been worse. Those of us with gray hair and long memories can attest to it.