Consider it the curious case of Jonathan Crompton.
From public enemy No. 1 to SEC offensive player of the week, Tennessee’s starting quarterback experienced yet another swing in the battle for approval from the Volunteer faithful two weeks ago against Georgia.
From heralded recruit to vilified starter, the dance doesn’t seem to end for Crompton and his following. His 20-for-27, 310-yard, four-touchdown outing in a 45-19 walk over Georgia on Oct. 10 led to his selection as SEC offensive player of the week.
Now, Crompton has a shot to win back the rest of the skeptics when Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 SEC) travels to No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Failure would only bring back the boo-birds who showered Crompton with disapproval several times in Neyland Stadium.
Tide coach Nick Saban said Tennessee tried several new things against Georgia and expects new wrinkles were added during the Vols’ week off that followed. Moving the pocket and throwing in a few bootleg passes freed up Crompton and kept the pressure from affecting him.
“It really complemented their running game, and those plays were the misdirection plays,” Saban said. “It really, kind of, got the defense moving in one direction and they made a lot of plays on Georgia with play-action passes.”
Alabama defensive end Lorenzo Washington isn’t preparing for anything less than what he saw from the Tennessee/Georgia tape.
“He’s an SEC starting quarterback, so I don’t care what anybody says,” Washington said. “He’s a good athletic period. He played good. He’s a good quarterback. He had made some bad decisions and had a couple turnovers. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad quarterback. He just needed to make a little bit better decisions. He’s still a dangerous athlete.”
The bad decisions led to the eight interceptions thrown this season compared to nine touchdowns on 102-for-177 passing. Three of those errant throws came in a home loss to UCLA when the boos grew especially loud.
In spite of the public outcry that demanded Crompton’s benching, Kiffin has stuck by his starting quarterback. Stephens, who started last season’s 29-9 loss to the Tide and threw for 137 yards on 16-of-28 passing, has seen the field just twice this season. He was 4-for-4 at the end of a season-opening blowout of Western Kentucky and didn’t throw a pass in similar mop-up duties against Georgia.
For an Alabama defense that has demoralized the last few quarterbacks it has faced with the pass rush. So escaping the pocket to pick up a few yards on unplanned runs produced at least a small degree of success.
“I don’t think Crompton in that sense is a scrambler,” Washington said. “But he is athletic. He has made plays out of the pocket. Obviously, I think that’s always something for us. Keep getting a pass rush and get in the quarterback’s head.”