Nov. 8, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
Give Jonathan Crompton credit for finding the open man one more time.
Sitting behind the podium in Tennessee's postgame press conference after a 56-28 dismantling of Memphis in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night, the senior quarterback fielded his sixth consecutive question.
To his left, linebacker Herman Lathers had yet to be asked about leading the Vols with six tackles in his first career start.
So when a reporter asked about building another quick lead, Crompton did what he'd done before leaving the field with a 49-7 lead midway through the third quarter: He made the right read and got rid of the ball.
"That's what you want. That helps our defense out," Crompton said. "I'm going to pass this one over to Herman and let him answer that one."
When you're hot, you're hot. And Crompton was definitely hot against Memphis.
The senior tied a career high with five touchdown passes, set a new career high with 331 yards passing and rushed for another score. Three hundred and five of those yards came in the first half against Memphis, and the Vols scored touchdowns on seven of their first eight offensive possessions.
"We kind of expected some things to be there," Crompton said. "That's why we game-planned that way."
Saturday, though, wasn't the start of Crompton's stellar play. It was merely another chapter.
In his last four games, Crompton has completed 74 of 114 passes for 1,048 yards and 12 touchdowns. In that same span, he's thrown just two interceptions, and he's played 10 quarters of football since throwing his last one.
UT coach Lane Kiffin knew the Vols could run the ball on Memphis, but he wanted to focus on the passing game after the Vols completed just 50 percent of their passes for 142 yards in last week's victory over South Carolina.
Kiffin wanted the Vols to head home confident in the passing game with three SEC games remaining, beginning next week at Ole Miss. Leaving the stadium Saturday night, Crompton was the SEC leader in touchdown passes with 21 in nine games.
As it goes with quarterbacks, Crompton has definitely taken too much blame for some of Tennessee's losses. This could have been a night where he reveled in taking credit.
But instead of basking in the spotlight, he shone most of it on his teammates.
"That's saying a lot about our team," Crompton said of leading the SEC in touchdown passes. "It's not an individual goal in my mind. That's the whole team. That's the o-line doing their job, because if they don't block I can't do that. And the receivers catching the ball and making plays. I can count numerous times (running back) Montario (Hardesty) has cut somebody at the line to give me an extra half-second to throw the ball.
"It's a good feeling to say I lead the SEC, but that's not what we care about. We care about W's. Our defense does a tremendous job holding them and getting the ball back so we can have chances to score."
Said Kiffin: "He's developing in the system."
Part of that system is Kiffin's unwavering confidence in his players. When the Vols struggled at times in the passing game early in the season, Kiffin never considered changing quarterbacks and continued to show public - and private - confidence in Crompton.
What's happening now is a direct result.
"That's what you want in your head coach," Crompton said. "Especially when he really emphasizes that he has confidence in all of his players, not just one individual. That's a good thing. That's how you know that he's building a championship program."
Offensive lineman Jacques McClendon saw the same thing.
"It's different saying something and showing something," McClendon said. "You talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? Coach Kiffin's done that. He told us he had confidence in us and then in games during pressure situations, he's put the game in our hands and showed us that he does."
The Vols, now 5-4 and winners of back-to-back games for the first time in Kiffin's tenure, are rewarding that confidence. They racked up 566 yards of total offense against Memphis (2-7), their highest output since gaining 657 in the season opener against Western Kentucky on Sept. 1.
That day, Crompton threw five touchdown passes. On Saturday, he threw five touchdowns to five different receivers.
Seems like Crompton knows exactly where to go with the ball.