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After developing this season, Crompton could test Hokies

ATLANTA – Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton threw seven interceptions in three games in his disastrous start to his season. In nine games since then, he has thrown for 2,146 yards and 21 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

While the Volunteers’ passing offense has not flourished this season, Crompton could challenge No. 12 Virginia Tech (9-3) when it plays Tennessee (7-5) on Thursday in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The Hokies will be playing with an inexperienced cornerbacks because their senior cornerback, Stephan Virgil, who was academically ineligible for the bowl. Freshman Jayron Hosley and Cris Hill, a third-year sophomore with one career start at cornerback, are each going to play in Virgil’s place.

“They’re talented, and hopefully they’re going to rise to the occasion,” Coach Frank Beamer said on Wednesday, adding that he was unsure which player would start.

Virginia Tech’s defensive scheme does not have its cornerbacks roving the field in man coverage throughout the game. Hosley or Hill would play the field cornerback position, which roves large areas of the field in mostly zone coverage; there is a lot of ground to cover, but the player is rarely in one-on-one battles like the boundary cornerback, Rashad Carmichael.

Even though it will be hard for the Volunteers to pick on the newcomer to the secondary, Crompton and the Volunteers’ still could challenge Virginia Tech in the air.

Crompton has started to settle into Tennessee’s scheme, and has become a nice compliment to a Volunteers offense that is predicated on its ability to rush the ball with running back Montario Hardesty and a solid offensive line.

Crompton is only the ninth passer in program history to throw for over 2,500 yards in a season. And he started to play better as the season wore on. He threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Georgia on Oct. 10 and completed 21 of 36 passes in a narrow loss at Alabama on Oct. 24.

Tennessee Coach Lane Kiffin said Crompton played well last spring, but injuries to wide receivers hurt the Volunteers’ timing early in the year. Kiffin also said he did not put Crompton in the best spots in the beginning, but eventually learned how to make it work.

“I got better around him and called a better game for him because I got to see what happened when he made mistakes,” Kiffin said. “I got to see what he does. You can go through practice, but until you’re with a guy in a game as a play-caller, you don’t necessarily know how to put him in the best position all the time.”

And if Kiffin can get Crompton going on Thursday, it could cause trouble for the Hokies and their relatively inexperienced secondary in this bowl game.

By Mark Viera  |  December 31, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
 
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