KNOXVILLE -- Before Saturday, Jonathan Crompton's college career largely had been a frustrating collection of poor performances. There are no guarantees that anything past Saturday will be better.
But Saturday was spectacularly sweet for the University of Tennessee's much-maligned senior quarterback, and he capped the 45-19 victory over Georgia by rushing into the Neyland Stadium bleachers and bear-hugging his crying parents.
"It was kind of a personal game," Crompton said. "Some people say you play harder for the people you love, and so I played more for them, my teammates and myself. It was fun. I felt the energy out there."
When Crompton finally strolled to the postgame news conference -- he was the last Volunteer to take the podium -- he offered a rare one-line joke to the media who had grown accustomed to his stone-cold public persona.
"I'm like a loner up here," he said.
Crompton had experienced that feeling several times, but not in a good way -- not against a major Southeastern Conference opponent, anyway.
Rather than sitting there taking bullets after the fact, Crompton stood on Shields-Watkins Field and delivered bullets throughout the game. He fired passes of all lengths in going 20-for-27 for a career-high 310 yards and four touchdowns.
"I don't know if they expected to put their entire game plan behind him," said Georgia's Mark Richt, one of several college coaches perplexed by the former super recruit's previous struggles. "I'm sure they thought he would be a part of it, but when it started out so successfully, they said, 'Hey, let's stick with it.'"
Simply sticking with Crompton as the starter has been a polarizing topic. Most fans temporarily held him in good graces after his five-touchdown opener against Western Kentucky, but the past few weeks left many wondering whether a new coaching staff should continue trusting someone so synonymous with the proud program's downfall.
Coach Lane Kiffin never wavered -- at least not publicly -- and neither did his players.
"Man, Jonathan Crompton, he's a great leader," said UT senior guard Jacques McClendon, a former Baylor School star. "Today, he made sure that everybody was on top of their stuff. Him as quarterback, everybody thinks they were crazy sticking with the man, but Jonathan Crompton can play football.
"Coach Kiffin and all our coaches are paid millions to make decisions. And they made the decision to stick with him. And this is what they saw. And this is what they're going to get."
Perhaps more impressive than anything else -- at least to several in the UT locker room -- was Crompton maintaining his poise early in the second half, when one of his few mistakes took a bad bounce and completely shifted momentum.
A slant pass thrown too hard, too high and a little behind freshman wide receiver Zach Rogers deflected into the hands of Georgia's Bacarri Rambo, who raced 28 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Bulldogs within 24-19 midway through the third quarter.
But Crompton's ninth interception of the season didn't derail the Vols. He completed all four passes he attempted on the ensuing drive, which Montario Hardesty finished with a 39-yard touchdown run.
"That's what we expect," Crompton said. "Our whole team has a short-term memory. If we fumble or throw an interception and they score, we need to stop it right there and get back to where we were. So that was a good thing.
"Our whole team bounced back. No one said, 'Oh, man, come on.' We said, 'We're going to go down there and score.'"
They scored again three minutes later after Hardesty's romp, when junior wide receiver Gerald Jones used a nifty double move to break wide open down the seam. Crompton fired a perfect pass, and Jones breezed in for a 51-yard score -- his second of the afternoon.
Kiffin spread praise like he'd spread the blame after the UCLA, Florida and Auburn losses.
"You're going to give Jonathan a lot of credit today, which is deserving," Kiffin told reporters. "But 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. What happened today was (Crompton) played really well. But why did he play well? Guys made plays for him.
"I've said time and time again, if we get our passing game on the same page and guys make plays, that helps the quarterback a ton, and it builds his confidence. And you saw him, as the game went on, he started forcing some balls in there in a good way, because he had the confidence to make the plays."
Crompton swore his confidence was no different than it's been at any point the past two seasons, though. Saturday's success, he said, was simply a byproduct of a cohesive offense.
"If guys are going to be in the right spot, and they know where I'm going to throw it, and I know where they're going to be, we expect that," Crompton said. "The O-line did a great job today keeping me clean ... and guys were in the right spots. They ran to the exact depth and broke if off where we expected, and I just get the ball to them and let them make plays. And obviously they did.
"Besides that one (interception), I think we had a good day on offense."