Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
University of Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton passed for 310 yards and four touchdowns Saturday in the Vols' 45-19 win over Georgia.
KNOXVILLE -- Here came Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, running briskly toward Neyland Stadium's north end-zone stands -- running toward his parents, David and Janet.
He had his reasons to punctuate the Volunteers' 45-19 victory over Georgia in this fashion. Great reasons. After all, other than UT coach Lane Kiffin, his parents may have been the only two people on the planet to have stood by him the past five weeks as the Vols fell to 2-3, including losses in both of their Southeastern Conference games.
And it wasn't as if Crompton had merely been the most maligned Vol during that time. He had pretty much been the only maligned Vol. To listen to some Big Orange loyalists, Crompton was to blame for everything from the recent floods to the swine flu.
So after throwing four touchdown passes, he climbed the wall in the north end zone the way tennis champs at Wimbledon have sometimes climbed into the friends box. Mom, Dad and Jonathan then shared long embraces, punctuated by tears, especially from Janet.
"My mom's from Georgia," the quarterback said later. "She grew up a Georgia fan, so it was kind of a personal game."
It's always personal in the SEC when it comes to football. That's why 103,261 filed into Neyland Stadium to watch unranked Tennessee face unranked Georgia on a gray, damp day.
Each of those fans was going to wake up either a winner or a loser this morning, and the losers would be looking for someone to blame for their anger, hurt and embarrassment.
Until Saturday, Big Orange fans blamed Crompton. But after watching his performance against Georgia, UT students could be seen holding high "Crompton for Heisman" signs, as if beating a mediocre Georgia team instantly made up for his struggles against UCLA, Florida, Auburn and Ohio.
(Then again, when President Obama can win the Nobel Peace Prize, whose to say Crompton can't win the Heisman?)
Or, as Kiffin said afterward, "I've sat up here and told you before that whenever you win, the quarterback gets too much credit, and whenever you lose, he doesn't get enough and gets killed."
Now it's Georgia coach Mark Richt's turn to get killed. For the first time in his nine years, the Bulldogs are 3-3. Worse yet, they must yet face Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech, none of those anywhere close to certain wins.
And even if the most demanding Dogs lover might grudgingly admit that this Georgia team never had much of a chance to win the SEC East, losing by 26 points to an average (at best) Big Orange bunch is not going to help Richt's popularity. Especially when Georgia failed to reach the UT 20-yard line a single time.
That's right. Not ... a ... single ... time. And under a coach in his ninth year.
The Bulldog Nation may rightfully blame embattled UGA defensive coordinator Willie Martinez for much of this defeat. Seemingly shocked by UT's decision to turn this game over to Crompton, Georgia never really adjusted to the quarterback's rollouts.
"We geared to stop the run and didn't adjust very well," Richt said. "We did a little better job in the second half, but not really."
In other words, if the Bulldogs don't turn things around quickly, Richt likely will part company with good friend Martinez.
But the bigger concern for Georgia fans should come from the Tennessee locker room, where Eric Berry said Kiffin "actually made a promise to us that we would never lose to them anymore, ever, until he leaves."
Kiffin wasn't that emphatic with the media but he did say, "To me, Georgia, because of what we need to do in recruiting, will be the biggest matchup for this staff and for our team."
So it's on. Having previously called out Florida's Urban Meyer, having raided the coaching staffs of South Carolina and Alabama, Kiffin is now challenging Georgia.
The trouble for Georgia fans is when or if their Dogs will bite back.
Yes, ace receiver A.J. Green must return for one more season. But quarterback Joe Cox, mediocre though he may be, is a senior. The defense looks overmatched at the moment, and the running game may be the worst since 1963, the year before Vince Dooley arrived. The Bulldogs are averaging less than 100 yards a game.
Said Richt late Saturday afternoon: "We've got a long way to go to become a good football team. We've got to find a way to beat Vanderbilt. That's where we're at right now."
The good news for the Dogs is that even in the SEC, your past doesn't have to determine your future. Just ask Crompton.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...