Venomous Vol fans

The level of "hatred" directed at Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton shocks Vol head coach Lane Kiffin but the level of criticism does not. He's seen that before.

During his days as an aide at Southern Cal Kiffin saw a similar amount of grumbling aimed at Carson Palmer, whose sophomore stats in 2000 included a 54.9 completion percentage with 18 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns.

"Our first year we went 6-6, and Carson threw more interceptions than touchdowns, had a really poor season," Kiffin recalled. "He got beat up a lot because the expectations - as with Jonathan - were so high for him.

"The difference was that there's not so much attention at SC on the football program as there is here, so he didn't have to deal with it like Jonathan does on an hourly basis. I thought (head coach Pete Carroll) did a great job with Carson, continuing to be positive and putting better pieces around him."

Carroll put so many great players around Palmer that he won the 2002 Heisman Trophy as a senior after completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 3,942 yards and 33 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. A few months later Palmer was the first player picked in the 2003 NFL Draft.

Here's the problem: Carroll had two years to fine-tune Palmer. Kiffin has two more months to fine-tune Crompton.

"We had Carson for two more years after that (mediocre sophomore season)," Kiffin recalled. "The difference is, Jonathan's gone after this year, so we can't really develop guys and put them in place around him a year from now, so we've got to get better now."

Crompton was ranked among the top three quarterback prospects in America following his senior season at Tuscola High in Waynesville, N.C. After a redshirt year and two seasons backing up Erik Ainge, he was supposed to emerge as a UT star in 2008. He didn't, completing just 51.5 percent of his passes with more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4).

Crompton seemed to be blossoming under Kiffin, however, when he completed 21 of 28 passes for 233 yards and five touchdowns in the 2009 opener vs. Western Kentucky. After losing three interceptions and a fumble in Saturday's Game 2 loss to UCLA, though, he quickly became the least popular guy in Big Orange Country.

"It blows me away sometimes how much hatred there is toward him (based on) radio-show comments," Kiffin said. "He's a college kid, he's going to school, he's a great student. I feel bad for him."

The head coach insists that Crompton's lame numbers against UCLA can be traced in part to the fact he was not on the same page with receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, who missed most of preseason practice due to injuries. Crompton was visibly upset at Jones following a late-game miscommunication last Saturday.

"Quarterbacks get frustrated, and they get frustrated when guys aren't doing things right around them," Kiffin said. "They feel that weight start coming down on them, especially in his situation because he's taken so much heat here."

Since Kiffin has imposed a ban on media interviews with Crompton this week, the coach was asked to assess where his QB is mentally.

"I think he's good," Kiffin said. "I think yesterday (Monday) it was good to get back out on the field. Anytime you get away from everything else - going to school, the newspaper, the radio shows and just come over to us at 2:30 - he doesn't have to deal with any of that. He sits in the meetings, gets to watch film, gets to practice, and all of that other stuff goes away. It's the time he's away from us when I worry the most."

Certainly, there is incredible pressure on Crompton this week. Besides coming off a four-turnover game, he is preparing to face the top-ranked Florida Gators at The Swamp, college football's most hostile venue. The Vols are a 28-point underdog.

"We need him to play well, and I need to do a better job helping him with better play calls and do a better job of managing the game for him," Kiffin said. "We need to get him rolling a little bit, get his confidence back. He played one game that wasn't very good and he played one almost perfect game.

"We want him to play like the first game. One game will never define a player and will never define us as a team."

The head man said he has no intention of making a change at quarterback, although he cryptically noted that, "We'll make an assessment after a number of games of where we are as a team and where we are individually."

No. 2 quarterback Nick Stephens is waiting in the wings should Crompton continue to struggle.

"Nick will always be ready but Crompton's our quarterback," Kiffin said. "We have a lot of faith in him. We have confidence in him. We need to do a better job around him. We had a number of guys injured last week, and it's tough to be in rhythm when your receivers are banged up and they've been out a number of weeks, especially your supposed go-to receiver. We'll do a better job in practice this week with our timing in the passing game, and I think that will help him Saturday."

If Crompton never lives up to his high school credentials Kiffin said it won't be because he failed to put forth the necessary effort:

"Make sure you guys understand: There ain't a guy who's trying harder in the country than what he's done, that's prepared harder or done more to try and do things right. He's going to do well for us."

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