October 10, 2009
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Tennessee 45, Georgia 19. Here comes the dramatic understatement of the season so far. Okay, are you ready? Okay: Jonathan Crompton had the best game of his career.
Now for the appropriately-calibrated statement: Say what? To put Crompton's 310-yard, four-touchdown day against one of the SEC's (and therefore one of the nation's) most talented defenses, some perspective: Before last week's fourth-quarter rally against Auburn, Crompton had never topped 200 yards passing against an SEC defense; that was also the first time he'd thrown multiple touchdown passes (two) in a conference game. For his career, Crompton had completed slightly fewer than half his passes against SEC opponents, with more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (7) and a dismal 99.5 efficiency rating to solidify his name as the one most synonymous with contemporary college quarterbacking failure. His efficiency rating today? Two-hundred twelve, and that's with a Georgia interception return for touchdown off a flubbed reception that wasn't really the quarterback's fault.
There's a dissonance there that I don't really know how to address. On one hand, the implications of a competent Crompton on Tennessee's offense are colossal: The Vols were already pounding out a viable running game behind Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown with no threat from the passing game at all -- against Auburn, Crompton was occasionally hitting surprised receivers in the side of the helmet. This kind of break-neck turnaround, off a season-and-a-half of nonstop futility from the quarterbacks, is jarring and totally alters the perception of Tennessee's offense as a paleolithic attack that can only succeed when it keeps the ball between the tackles -- and when the defense keeps it close enough to keep the running game viable.
On the other hand, it's tempting to lay the sudden Vol explosion at the feet of the Georgia defense, which has already been gutted twice in league play -- for 427 yards and 37 points by South Carolina and 485 yards and 41 points by Arkansas -- and couldn't keep LSU's nondescript attack from rallying for a couple late touchdowns to win last week. Without the offense's response against the Gamecocks and Razorbacks, UGA would have been in dire straits ages ago, and the offense wasn't there at all today. Let's just call it here: Those dismal stat rankings weren't just the result of playing real offenses every week. Georgia's defense is legitimately bad.
And so you have two teams in the same division, with the same overall record and a pair of conference losses apiece at midseason, but staring at the second half in starkly different terms: Tennessee has its best win in almost two years, the first signature victory of the Kiffin era, and is just six combined points against UCLA and Auburn from being 5-1 instead of 3-3; Georgia has lost two in a row, isn't good at anything outside of throwing the ball up to A.J. Green and is a combined seven points against South Carolina and Arizona State from being 1-5 instead of 3-3.
Meanwhile, South Carolina won another nailbiter and actually is 5-1. Behind Florida, the script in the SEC East has completely flipped.