OXFORD – A surging Tennessee quarterback has benefited from a greater understanding of the offense and from pass plays designed for a quick release, says the defensive coordinator whose job it is to stop him.
Ranked among the nation’s top five quarterbacks out of high school, senior Jonathan Crompton is learning a new system this year, and his struggles through the first half of the season made offense a challenge for the Vols.
As Crompton has settled down, Tennessee has taken off.
“He’s learning the offense, so he’s got that under his belt, and they’re doing some things differently to get the ball out of his hands quicker,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. “They’re doing some play-action, and they don’t have as many down-the-field throws. He’s been on fire lately.”
The Vols scored 22 points or fewer in their first three games against BCS conference teams.
Crompton was the epicenter of the struggle. Through the first four games Crompton threw eight interceptions – or one every 13 attempts.
Through the last five games he’s completed almost 60 percent of 157 attempts for 1,297 yards with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Not coincidentally, the Vols have produced 29 plays of more than 20 yards in the last five games.
Crompton threw for 305 yards against Memphis.
In the first half.
“He’s developing within the system,” says first-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.
In what proved to be the final game for Tommy West as Memphis coach, the Vols hammered the Tigers 56-28, and Crompton finished with five touchdown passes.
The emergence of Crompton has coincided with health at receiver and depth at tailback.
Junior wideouts Gerald Jones and Demarius Moore were set back with injuries. They combined for only four catches in the first three games but have totaled 50 catches since.
Senior tailback Montario Hardesty is the SEC’s fourth-leading rusher with 100.1 yards a game, and the Vols are getting good production from freshmen Bryce Brown and David Oku.
Hardesty and Brown bigger, stronger backs, mirroring one another at 6-0, 215. Brown has contributed 400 yards and three touchdowns.
“Their running game has improved, and any time you have a strong running game it makes the passing game that much better,” Nix said.
The new and improved Crompton leads the SEC in TD passes with 21, three ahead of Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet.
His resurgence has been fueled in part by the fact that Kiffin stood by him early in the season.
“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.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal