Staff File Photo by Dan Henry
UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton dazzled in Saturday's game against Memphis with a career-high 331 yards and five touchdowns.
KNOXVILLE -- Memphis' porous defense provided the Tennessee football team a pick-your-proficiency scenario.
The Tigers entered the game struggling to stop the run and the pass, and first-year Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin opted to boost his offense's confidence through the air.
Senior Jonathan Crompton shattered a program record with 305 first-half passing yards, and he finished with a career-high 331 yards and five touchdowns on 21-of-27 passing.
Kiffin compared his much maligned quarterback to a baseball pitching machine last week.
"He has great confidence right now, and it's how he practices all week," Kiffin said. "I think it was Thursday, getting off the field and watching film, he was like a Juggs machine. Everywhere he pointed, that's exactly where it went. And he really missed just one throw in the game to his left in the first half.
"Other than that, he played almost perfect."
In other words, the pregame plan worked. Kiffin entered the week hoping to improve on a lackluster passing attack against South Carolina, and Memphis coach Tommy West's comments on his team committing to stop the run solidified Kiffin's decision to attack through the air.
"I thought this would be a game where we could run the ball really well, if he wanted to," Kiffin said. "We could have come out and slowed the game down and ran the ball 40 times in the first half and scored, I don't know, 28 points or something. But we're going into a run against some defenses that aren't ranked statistically high against the run, the rest of the season, so I know that we can do that.
"I wanted to make sure, as we got going for this stretch run here against SEC teams, that our passing game has great confidence. It was very important for Jonathan to leave this game, and for that group of receivers and the entire offense feeling that they're playing their best. And it happened to work."
Crompton scanned the entire field better than at any point in his career, according to coaches, who cited his touchdown passes going to five receivers.
"We expected to come out and play one of our better games, and we knew that if we did, we could kind of dominate," Crompton said. "We're starting to see all our hard work pay off, and that's obviously the feeling you want to have."
Junior wide receiver Denarius Moore -- who caught two touchdown passes against Memphis and had another called back because of a penalty -- said improved health in the pass-catching corps has led to better timing with Crompton.
"We know where we're supposed to be, he knows we're going to be where we're supposed to be, and he's putting the ball where it's supposed to be," Moore said. "When you do all of that, you're going to put points on the board and win games."
Added junior tight end Luke Stocker: "When everybody's getting involved and making plays, and you play like we did tonight, this is a really fun game. I don't know how else to say it ... we're having a lot of fun right now."
Crompton hasn't publicly stated "I told you so" to his incalculable list of doubters, but coaches and teammates have grown increasingly blunt during their quarterback's ascent to fourth nationally with 21 touchdown throws.
"There was never a doubt in my mind that he gave us the best chance to win," Kiffin said. "We just weren't doing things around him. I wasn't giving him a good enough game plan, we weren't making enough plays for him, and he was making some poor decisions.
"But we got those things fixed, and that's why he's on the run that he's on now."
Added senior guard and former Baylor School star Jacques McClendon: "Jonathan's only ever really cared about us winning more games, because that's the kind of person and leader he is, but obviously we're all happy for him. Who wouldn't be, with everything he's been through?"
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