Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- There hasn’t been a more maligned football player at Tennessee than Jonathan Crompton in a long time.
He’s been mocked by fans, ripped apart in the media and even received death threats last season.
On Saturday, he looked like a Heisman Trophy contender.
OK, maybe that’s going a bit far considering he was playing against Western Kentucky, which never got close enough to breathe on him in Tennessee’s 63-7 romp to kick off the Lane Kiffin era.
But given the hell Crompton has gone through on Rocky Top, he as much as anybody deserved a five-touchdown performance and the kind of debut to his senior season that not even the most optimistic Tennessee fan could have envisioned.
While Kiffin might not have predicted five touchdown passes, he’s anything but surprised to see Crompton having success. It’s obvious that Crompton is far more comfortable in Kiffin’s pro-style offense than he ever was at any point last season.
“This is a quarterback and an offensive line that has been torn apart for a while now,” said Kiffin, who maintained before the game that he thinks Crompton has a chance to be taken in the NFL draft next April. “To see Jonathan throw for five touchdown passes, more than he threw all of last year combined, was really good for him. I’ve been trying to tell everybody who will listen that the guy is as prepared as anybody.
“He’s done a great job. He’s had a great offseason. He’s been a great leader. I think that showed today. He had two interceptions that were tipped balls and weren’t his fault. I thought he played extremely well.”
Crompton, who finished 21-of-28 for 233 yards, shrugged off any questions about what all he’s endured at Tennessee.
“I don’t even think about last year,” Crompton said. “Last year’s over. Nobody thinks about it. We just think about now and the future.”
Tight end Luke Stocker, who caught two of Crompton’s touchdown passes, said the version of Crompton he saw Saturday was the same one he’s seen all preseason.
“You can just feel Jonathan’s confidence. It’s unbelievable right now, and that’s exactly how you want to feel about your quarterback,” Stocker said.