Picked off, ticked off

As a Tennessee sophomore in 1995 Peyton Manning threw just four interceptions in 380 pass attempts. As a Tennessee senior in 2009 Jonathan Crompton has thrown five interceptions in his first 54 attempts.

Clearly, the Vols' season is headed for disaster if so many of their passes continue to be caught by guys NOT wearing orange and white.

So, what can Lane Kiffin do to stop the rash of errant aerials by his quarterback?

"You keep showing him 'Here's exactly what you need to do versus this play, versus this coverage, versus this look," the Vols' first-year head man said this week.

Although Kiffin says Crompton is getting too much blame for the problems in Tennessee's passing attack, the coach concedes that his senior QB must make some improvements.

"We've got to get better at the decision-making," the coach said.

Receiver Gerald Jones has been quoted this week saying he's to blame for several of the passing-game mishaps that doomed Tennessee in last Saturday's 19-15 loss to UCLA. He and Denarius Moore missed most of preseason drills due to injury, so both wideouts are struggling to get their timing down with Crompton. Kiffin has noticed.

"We've got to get better at the timing, get better to make sure everybody's on the same page," the head man said. "And we've got to protect better, too."

Tennessee's pass protection was air-tight at times vs. UCLA but downright porous at other times. Kiffin, a former QB himself, knows how negatively that can impact a passer.

As the head man put it: "Any quarterback will tell you that if you're getting hit back there you're not going be as accurate as when you can stand back there for a while like he could the first week (vs. Western Kentucky)."

Much of the criticism of Crompton since the UCLA game has been reasonable. Some has crossed the line, however. That's why Kiffin decided to protect his senior QB by making him off-limits for media interviews as the Vols prepare for Saturday's game at No. 1 Florida.

Has the coach ever taken such a step previously?

"Not to this level," Kiffin said.

Although Crompton's offensive line and receivers were noticeably imperfect last Saturday, the quarterback's mishaps have made him the primary focus of fan disgust this week. That goes with the position, however.

"Exactly," Vol defensive end Chris Walker said. "The position that Cromp plays, he knew he was going to take that kind of criticism. He's a strong person, and I think he'll handle it very well."

Crompton can handle the criticism a lot better if he knows that his teammates are solidly behind him. Does he have that kind of support?

"He's my teammate, and I'm going to stick up for him at all costs," Walker said. "It kind of upset me when people were putting the blame completely on him. We didn't play very well at times on defense, and the offense knows that as a team we didn't play very well."

The Vols "didn't play very well," all right. And, if they continue giving up interceptions at such an alarming rate, the only thing they'll have a chance to win this fall is an award for philanthropy.

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