One word that has been used repeatedly by the Tennessee coaching staff regarding the offense is inconsistency. Lane Kiffin has repeatedly noted his team's inability to find consistency in practice and then again in games.
Heading into today's game vs. SEC East rival Georgia, Tennessee's offense has been struggling to score points just as they did a year ago. Being run off the field after a short possession had become an all-too-common sight for fans and most likely, for the Tennessee defensive unit.
Many people, myself included, have criticized or questioned the coaching staff standing so steadfast beside Jonathan Crompton as the QB.
After all, it's almost not debatable that to this point, Crompton has been the single worst QB in the history of Tennessee football, if not the worst long time starter at any position.
For a large number of fans, media, and critics, watching Crompton make the same mistakes again and again yielded frustration, especially since developing Crompton does nothing to benefit Tennessee past this season.
In the face of widespread criticism, Lane Kiffin has stood by Crompton. When asked, he's always given the same answer and has done so with conviction. Today, Kiffin should have earned some credit from even his harshest critics in regards to that decision.
Let's not lie to ourselves, there is no one, nowhere, who could have foreseen Crompton's amazing performance vs Georgia. Crompton went 20-for-27 for 301 yards, 4 TDs and only 1 INT in a 45-18 beating of the Bulldogs.
Crompton showed a calmness and accuracy he hasn't shown since arriving on UT's campus, but was a great sight to see for every UT fan, myself included.
As I watched the game unfold, I could recall my thoughts while listening to Kiffin in the off-season. Kiffin would make comments about calling the right plays to take pressure off Crompton, making it easier on him to make decisions and limiting the chances he'd have to make mistakes.
Up to the game today, one frustrating aspect to the offense has been the playcalling. There have been several tendencies and tactics widely questioned by many people, but most of those people will acknowledge it's not easy to call plays when you never know what your QB will do.
Today, however, Kiffin's playcalling seemed to grow with every completed pass. If a play worked, he came back to it. If Georgia had trouble defending a certain personnel grouping, Kiffin threw it right back at them time and time again.
At first viewing, I counted at the very least five formations that Tennessee had not run until today. Out of those five formations, they ran four more than one time and ran multiple plays out of each one. This obviously created confusion amongst the Dogs' defense, as they never seemed to know what was coming.
It was clear to me that Kiffin arranged a masterfully designed game plan and prepared Jon Crompton to execute it nearly flawlessly. Crompton made all the right decisions, and even on his lone interception, the only flaw was the ball being behind the receiver and getting tipped.
Crompton doesn't deserve all the praise, though he deserves a big chunk of it. The receivers, line and backs all did their parts by finally putting together a full game and helping in almost every phase.
There were no noticeable blown routes and only one drop which was on a ball that wouldn't have gained yardage anyway.
The big question following a great win for Kiffin and Co. is will there be an encore? For a team whose own coaches have spoken of not being able to find consistency, you have to wonder if the stars just lined up for a day or if things are actually going to click.
I believe it's a mixture of both. Kiffin learned a lot about what his QB has confidence in doing today. After today, Jon Crompton can confidently run onto the field knowing he can do certain things well if set up and helped out properly.
The staff and Crompton deserve all the credit in the world for today's performance, as that's the best the Tennessee offense has played since Crompton took the reins.
Despite a mediocre showing to this point, Kiffin has stuck with what he believes is the right path and gotten results in a game he needed to win or display a good showing.
The question becomes two-fold. Can Lane Kiffin and his offensive staff now mold effective game plans around Crompton and his teammates' strengths? And can Jonathan Crompton carry the confidence earned from this performance and execute those game plans as effectively?
The answer will most definitely determine the outcome of most, if not all, of the Vols' remaining games. One game doesn't define a season. This offense has been mediocre to bad for four games, and good for two. That's not a good ratio.
On the bright side, this could be the point where Kiffin's teachings are clicking with his players and his player's abilities are clicking with Kiffin.
Guilty as charged, some of us can get caught up in believing that as professional, these coaches can do things a little bit faster and more effectively than they really can.
There's no getting around how bad Crompton has been in his time at Tennessee, and one game isn't going to take away the anxiety those performances have created amongst a large portion of the fanbase.
But, as a fan and lifetime follower, I have to hope that this is the turning point. That the struggles of the season to this point were not a reflection on the inability of the coaches to improve the offense, but rather a learning curve.
What I, and many Tennessee fans need to see from Kiffin and the Vols is an encore. Anyone taking this performance and turning it into a "winning out" scenario are going overboard, but Kiffin must follow this up.
Kiffin has shown the ability to call a great game vs. a veteran and well-established SEC coach of a talented team. Jonathan Crompton has shown the ability to execute that plan confidently and make plays on his own when called upon.
The biggest example of this strategy for Kiffin that was effective was first-down passing. Crompton completed 11 of his passes on first downs for a total of 206 yards, 3 TDs and getting a pass interference call.
Previously, and no I don't have the exact stat, Tennessee's tendency was certainly run heavy on first downs. It was obvious that the first down passing surprised Georgia and created great opportunities for Crompton and his teammates.
In closing, if you were concerned to this point as I was, let today serve as a beacon of light.
Kiffin showed great variety and strategy with his playcalling, building from one play to the next, showing us looks we hadn't seen and not being afraid to go back to something over and over as long as it's effective.
That's all anyone can ask for, a show of improvement. It's not that people lost faith in their ability to coach, but at some point you have to show signs and the Vols did today.
Now, can I get an encore?
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