Ready for prime time?

Getting a candid answer from a college football coach is a lot like getting a winning lottery ticket ... it isn't impossible, but it's a longshot.

Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer was refreshingly candid, however, when asked this week if quarterback Jonathan Crompton, after just three career starts, is ready for a game as meaningful as Saturday's showdown with fourth-ranked Florida.

"I don't know," Fulmer admitted. "He hasn't done it as a starting quarterback other than a couple of years ago. I think we'll find out a lot this week about that."

Crompton, a 6-4, 220-pound redshirt junior, made some exceptional plays in Tennessee's first two games. He also made some rookie mistakes. He has completed just 52.8 percent of his passes with more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). In his defense, though, he has had spotty pass protection and he has had a half-dozen passes dropped.

Given Crompton's modest numbers, many in the Vol Nation have lost confidence in him. Fulmer is not among them, however.

"I know what my expectations are, and I know how he's been coached," the head man said. "Jon's very capable. He's made some outstanding plays for us in the two ball games. He's shown his ability to throw the ball and manage a game.

"He's also made three or four plays that can get you beat. That's his challenge. The most important thing for Jon to do is manage the game and not turn it over."

After a brief pause, Fulmer hastily added: "That doesn't mean he has to go into a shell. He's got to play the game."

Crompton spent three frustrating years watching Erik Ainge run the show before getting his chance to lead the offense. Now that his turn finally has arrived, he might be so eager and so determined that he's trying a little too hard. If Crompton was pumped about facing UAB in Game 2, his excitement level could be off the charts facing Florida in Game 3.

"My concern with a game like this is that sometimes a guy will get too hyped up," Vol offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "He'll get outside of himself and try to do things he's not capable of doing and we're not asking him to do.

"Everyone knows the importance of this game and knows this rivalry. To overstate this I don't think helps people."

If Crompton is a bundle of nerves, however, his teammate say they haven't noticed.

"He's relaxed," receiver Gerald Jones said. "He may seem a little nervous – I've heard a lot of comments about him looking nervous – but he's relaxed.

"He's got confidence and he knows what he's doing. He's our leader, so he's got to stay poised and have a lot of confidence."


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