"You could see in the play-calling that we didn't get scared and go away from him," Kiffin recalled. "With the success of the ground game - averaging almost nine yards per carry - we could've gotten really conservative, said, 'Let's not let him lose the game ... just hand the ball off.' But that wouldn't help us down the road. We stayed with him, throwing the ball, and he responded by throwing five touchdowns."
Coming off an awful season in 2008, Jonathan Crompton rallied from his shaky start in the 2009 opener to complete 21 of 28 passes for 233 yards. He says a new attitude is helping him feel like his old self.
"Most definitely," he said. "As soon as I got last season out of my head and said, 'Let's start anew,' everything really started to click."
Crompton's renewed confidence showed in his body language and his performance following the first-possession interception last weekend. He didn't trudge off the field or allow his shoulders to droop.
"He was great," Kiffin said. "He wasn't pointing fingers, wasn't putting his head down. He really was leading the offense and had a great day. He managed the huddle and the line of scrimmage - no delay of games in 82 plays. That was good to see, especially for a first game."
Crompton understands the importance of body language. His teammates look to him for guidance, so if he appears tentative or discouraged those emotions will quickly spread throughout the huddle.
"My high school coach always said 'short-term memory' ... If you throw a pick throw a touchdown ... make up for it," he said. "And never let anybody know you're hurting or you're down because everybody always looks to the quarterback. That's how the team stays up on offense.
"If I throw a pick, my next drive I'm going to try and throw a touchdown to make up for it. Or if we fumble we're going to try to score a touchdown. It's something I pride myself in."
Crompton threw another interception in the third quarter. Like the first one, the ball was tipped. And, like the first one, he bounced back to play well afterward. That was a crucial test, and he passed it.
"We'd like everything to be perfect but if you wrote a script that's probably the way you'd want it to go for him," Kiffin said. "He'd had some times before in his history where he'd gotten down after turning the ball over. For him to turn it over, then come back and respond the way he did - completing 75 percent - was probably the best thing that could've happened for him, for our team and for our fans, as well."
Crompton clearly lost his poise and his confidence in 2008. Restoring both was Job One for Tennessee's new head coach, a former QB himself. He saw signs of progress last April.
"Halfway through spring I didn't see a guy you had to worry about that (confidence) being an issue because he was so focused on his preparation," Kiffin said. "Preparation means so much for those guys because it's a half-second between an interception and a big completion. That's not just arm strength. That's because a guy's prepared. He takes the exact right drop and his eyes are in the exact right place. He's done a great job with that."
He did a great job with it last Saturday, for sure. Otherwise, Tennessee would not have piled up 657 total yards and nine touchdowns in its 63-7 romp. Crompton shrugs off his role in the blowout, however.
"Obviously, we put up some points as an offense," he said. "If the offensive line's playing well that helps me play well. And the run game helped set up the play-action pass, and that's what we're about."