Jerry Colquitt waited five years to become Tennessee’s starting quarterback, but his season lasted only seven plays.
Colquitt tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when his leg stuck in the turf after after he was hit by UCLA free safety Paul Guidry in the Volunteers’ season-opening 25-23 loss to UCLA Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“I was there when it happened, and when he was on the ground I saw a look of pain on his face,” Tennessee tight end David Horn said. “He got back up and was going to get in the huddle. I knew it had to be something serious for him to go out of the game.”
Quarterback Peyton Manning also was shocked.
‘I can’t believe that happened,” he said. " That’s the worst thing I can imagine, because Jerry’s the hardest-working guy on this team and nobody deserves success more than he does.”
His left leg in a plastic splint, Colquitt hobbled onto the field on crutches at the the start of the second half. With a look of disgust, he took a seat on the Tennessee bench as TV cameramen and newspaper photographers engulfed him.
“I think it’s the worst thing in the world for Jerry to go down,” backup quarterback Todd Helton said. “Quarterbacks are like a small family, and for him to go, it was awful.
“I was expecting to play a few series at most, and when he went down it was a shock to us all. It was hard rebounding, but we knew what we had to do and we tried to do it.”
Colquitt left the Rose Bowl and went back to the team hotel with his father to escape the media and was not available for comment after the game.
Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer tried to console Colquitt at halftime.
“I just went in at halftime and hugged his neck and told him how sorry I was and that we all loved him,” Fulmer said. “And I do love him. He had been tremendously patient. It’s a tragedy, it really is.”
UCLA quarterback Wayne Cook, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Bruins’ season-opening win over Cal State Fullerton in 1992, can empathize with Colquitt.
Cook tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in his first start at UCLA and missed the rest of the season.
“I feel for the guy,” Cook said. “I know what he’s going through. It’s sad. I didn’t see him after the game, but I’d tell him to rehab hard and you can come back as good as new.”
Colquitt’s injury disrupted Tennessee’s offense as the 13th-ranked Volunteers fell behind, 18-0. Tennessee used three other quarterbacks after Colquitt was injured.
Helton replaced Colquitt, but he was unable to generate any offense and Fulmer employed freshmen Branndon Stewart and Manning, whose father, Archie, played quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
Although Manning and Stewart were among the nation’s most highly recruited players, they too were unable to get anything going and Fulmer put Helton back into the game with 13:06 left.
Helton engineered two touchdown drives to rally the Volunteers to 18-16. He completed three consecutive passes for a total of 45 yards to set up fullback Mose Phillips’ one-yard touchdown run with 11:12 remaining. He then connected with flanker Billy Williams on the two-point conversion pass to cut UCLA’s lead to 18-8.
Helton threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Courtney Epps on Tennessee’s next series and connected with split end Joey Kent on a two-point conversion pass to make it 18-16.
However, Helton may have cost Tennessee the game when he turned over the ball on the Volunteers’ next series. UCLA linebacker Donnie Edwards intercepted a Helton pass at the Tennessee 33 to set up Daron Washington’s 30-yard touchdown run three plays later.
“That was my fault all the way,” Helton said. “One of the rules is when you’re scrambling, don’t thrown back across the field, and I broke the rule.”