Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer said Wednesday he expects his senior quarterback to play in Saturday’s opener at California, despite the latest news that Erik Ainge has a broken little finger on his throwing hand.
”He is going to play,” Fulmer said of Ainge. “He has thrown and it looks like he’s going to be able to throw just fine. I appreciate him showing the toughness to get himself back out there.”
Fulmer faced a similar situation last year when Ainge was injured late in an Oct. 28 win at South Carolina. Ainge started the next week against LSU, but Jonathan Crompton played most of the way in Tennessee’s last-season loss to the Tigers.
”If it doesn’t work out great, then obviously Jonathan will have to be ready,” Fulmer said. “I have the utmost confidence in Jonathan getting the job done. We have said all along we’re going out there to win this football game as a team, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do.”
Crompton, a junior, has one career start in seven appearances. He has completed 47-percent of his career passes (31-of-66) for 401 yards. The Waynesville, N.C., product passed for 183 yards last year in the LSU game, then followed that with a 174-yard effort in his start at Arkansas. Crompton had two TDs and one interception in each of those games.
”Jon has done fine,” Fulmer said. “He played pretty well in the LSU game, probably not as well as he would have liked to at Arkansas, although he finished the game strong. We’re fortunate to have a backup with some experience and his ability.
”It’s very valuable that he has played and has experience. Did he have a little more pep in his step today because he (might get the start) — yes, that’s human nature.”
Fulmer said Ainge suffered his injury taking a snap during Monday’s practice. He also stated the news hasn’t deterred the team’s efforts this week.
”Our preparation has been as good as it could possibly be,” Fulmer said. “I’m really encouraged about where we are with the first group. We’ve still got a ton of work to do with a group of young guys who we would very much like to get in the ballgame. There are a number of guys who could really help our football team if we just don’t make those mistakes.
”I continue to be impressed with this group of freshmen. They come from some outstanding programs, they know how to work and they fit in nicely. I expect a good group of them to contribute.”
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