Wiedmer: Kiffin may have to make quarterback change to save Vols' season

Wiedmer: Kiffin may have to make quarterback change to save Vols' season

September 13th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

KNOXVILLE -- A week ago, new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin could have been elected governor. Even if he'd been born in Kenya.

The Volunteers had just smacked around Western Kentucky to the tune of 63-7, and visions of BCS bowls danced in Volniacs' heads the Big Orange Nation over. So what if UCLA was flying in for game two? It took overtime for UCLA to win in the Rose Bowl with that incompetent coach Phil Fulmer running the show.

The Bruins leave a Kiffin-coached team in ruins? Fuhgetaboudit.

But just for the fun of it, let us move swiftly ahead to Saturday's third quarter -- right after Vols fifth-year senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton returned to the huddle after throwing his third interception of the game. That pick led to a quick UCLA field goal, which gave the Bruins a 13-10 lead.

Exactly 13:52 remained in the period. Roughly 25 percent of the 100,000 Big Orange fans began to boo. Not a deafening boo, mind you, certainly not enough to drown out Rocky Top. But boos nonetheless. Presumably aimed at the boy king Kiffin as much as Crompton.

We repeat, boos. Two weeks on the job. Boos.

So given that UCLA ultimately won this game 19-15 and that No. 1 Florida awaits in Gainesville this coming Saturday, and that Crompton's three interceptions and one fumble were pretty much reasons 1, 2, 3 and 4 why UT lost this game, is it too early to wonder if this could be the shortest honeymoon in college football history?

Moreover, if Kiffin does change quarterbacks now, he is doing it to keep the fans off his back or because Nick Stephens truly deserves a chance to start?

But if he deserves to start, why didn't he deserve a chance to play at some point in Saturday's second half?

Kiffin tried to say all the right things after this one, beginning with, "I didn't do a very good job today of taking care of Jonathan. We didn't do very many good things around him."

And Crompton somehow remained upbeat, despite one of the more miserable efforts of his struggling career.

"The good news is that we were still in the game at the end," he said. "We (or should that have been 'I'?) had four turnovers and still came up 1 yard short."

Added center Cody Sullins: "Jonathan's a good leader out there. He calms us down in the huddle. He keeps his head up, no matter what happens."

All that's great. All that's uplifting. But it doesn't change the fact that the Vols' fifth-year senior quarterback threw three interceptions, coughed up a fumble and would have tossed four INTs if the Bruins hadn't been offside on UT's next-to-last offensive play of the game.

It also doesn't change these words from UCLA defensive back Rahim Moore, who picked off two of Crompton's passes: "On film, (Crompton) would look guys off. He didn't look anybody off today. Where he was looking was where he was throwing."

When your fifth-year senior quarterback is telegraphing his passes, it might be time for a change.

It might also be time for a quarterback change when the head coach admits, as Kiffin did, "I saw some finger-pointing. I saw a little during the game and I saw a little in the locker room."

When you're finger-pointing two games into the season and the quarterback behind the finger-pointing threw five touchdown passes the week before, you've got a fragile team on your hands heading into your toughest game of the year.

All of which makes this a very important week for Big Orange football.

To stay with Crompton or not? That is the question.

Kiffin's answer isn't likely to dramatically change the season, since Stephens surely would already be the starter if he were dramatically better.

But Kiffin doing nothing might switch the finger-pointing from a few players to 102,000 Volniacs, their index appendages all angrily trained on Lane.