ATHENS, Ga. -- At the beginning of his weekly news conference, Georgia football coach Mark Richt provides an opening statement before unloading praise on the upcoming foe.
Richt opened Tuesday's session by complimenting the atmosphere at Tennessee's "Big Orange House," more commonly known as Neyland Stadium, and the Volunteers' running game. He described Tennessee senior tailback Montario Hardesty as the best combination of speed, power and elusiveness his team has faced, and he pointed out the multitude of senior starters in the offensive line.
When his run through UT's offensive lineup got to beleaguered quarterback Jonathan Crompton, Richt said, "I know a lot of people have said this or that about Jonathan, but I can tell you that we recruited him heavily. We wanted him as bad as anybody that we recruited at Georgia at the quarterback position. He's a very, very talented young man who can certainly hurt you if we're not playing our very best."
That qualifies as praise, doesn't it?
When the Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1 SEC) visit the Vols (2-3, 0-2) this Saturday, they will face a quarterback who has scuffled under new coach Lane Kiffin just as he did under predecessor Phillip Fulmer. The fifth-year senior ranks 91st nationally in passing efficiency, and he's yet to conquer an SEC opponent when he's had to attempt more than eight passes.
Georgia hopes to force Crompton to air it out, which would mean slowing Hardesty and Bryce Brown on early-down runs.
"Any time you can get that quarterback into a position where he feels more pressure and more like he has to make the play, that's going to be good for our defense," weakside linebacker Rennie Curran said. "He's going to force some throws eventually, which could mean some good things in the secondary. I know he's struggled quite a bit, but we realize we're going to get his best effort and his team's best effort.
"We can't really watch what he did against another team."
Crompton has thrown eight interceptions this season but had none in last week's 26-22 loss to Auburn.
The 6-foot-4, 228-pounder from Waynesville, N.C., arrived at Tennessee as Rivals.com's No. 2 quarterback nationally in the 2005 class, trailing only Southern Cal signee and current New York Jets starter Mark Sanchez. The No. 7 quarterback nationally that year was Joe Cox, who led Charlotte's Independence High to two state titles before signing with Georgia.
"We went to some camps together, and when I went to the Elite 11 camp, he was my roommate," Cox said. "I knew him throughout high school through recruiting and just being at the same place at the same time."
Cox said they also played together in the Shrine Bowl, which pits the best of North Carolina against the best of South Carolina. Cox got the start.
Though Cox ranks 36th nationally in efficiency and was the Walter Camp Foundation player of the week for his five-touchdown performance at Arkansas, he can empathize with what Crompton is experiencing. The Bulldogs were booed at home several times last week when they staggered through a 49-yard first half in their eventual loss to LSU.
"It's tough when you're playing in front of your own crowd and you feel like you don't have the support of people who are wearing your colors," Cox said. "I do feel for people when that happens to them."