Going into the matchup with South Carolina, there was a lot of optimism in the fanbase as well as the program for what true freshman quarterback Justin Worley could potentially bring to the table. He was, at the beginning of the season, a surefire redshirt candidate.
That was, of course, until Tyler Bray went down.
Then Worley is thrust into the role of the No. 2. Matt Simms was named the starter, and after some of the good things we all saw from him last season, it was only natural to think that after another year in the system, he would be better.
That was obviously not the case. In all reality, he looked worse as a passer. Of course, it wasn't all his fault. He didn't have the luxury of throwing to two senior receivers and a senior tight end this season. He also started games against LSU and Alabama.
During the 4th quarter in Tuscaloosa, the redshirt was burned and Worley was put in the game. He took five snaps and threw zero passes. That wasn't the plan, but a Marlin Lane fumble on Worley's very first snap as well as the next drive starting on the Tennessee one-inch line killed all hope of Worley throwing it around a little bit.
During his Monday press conference, head coach Derek Dooley said he is going with Justin Worley as the starter against South Carolina. The optimism and excitement in the fan base and on the team was apparent in most every board post as well as player comments after that week's practices. The receivers all raved about his accuracy, tight spirals, leadership, and maturity. The fans had no choice but to be excited.
Last Saturday didn't exactly go how fans and the team expected. Worley started out inacurate. He looked wide eyed and nervous. He didn't even get the first play call correct. As the game went on though, he began to settle a bit, his accuracy improved for the most part. He had two very impressive tosses to DeAnthony Arnett on seam routes, and a beautiful sideline pass that fell through Da'Rick Roger's arms. He also his some decent slants routes and curls.
The kid showed why the coaches like him. He also showed that he was still a freshman. He threw two interceptions, both in the redzone (two-yard line and endzone). He wasn't able to put together a solid drive, and the offense showed it's ineptitude in the run game once again.
The receivers didn't do a great job of helping the freshman out. The routes weren't very crisp and there were some drops of balls that should have been caught. The run game was nonexistent, which puts more pressure on the passing game, and against the #1 pass defense in the SEC, he showed his inexperience. He was relieved of his duties in the 4th quarter by Matt Simms who didn't fare any better.
This past Monday, Dooley once again name Worley the starter. The Vols take on MTSU, which should give this team a bit of a break from a competition standpoint, as well as a game where the young quarterback can gain some confidence.
So why go back to the freshman as opposed to going with senior Matt Simms? It's simple, Worley is better. Yes, the Vols run the ball better with Simms, but that isn't good enough. This tells me that Worley has outperformed Simms in practice. Practices are closed to the media, so we can't see what happens, but all week during the South Carolina preparations; coaches and players were very high on what Worley was showing.
With Simms in the game, the Vols quite simply couldn't move the ball through the air. Once defenses adjusted to being the rushing attack, the offense was inept. With Worley, even if the run game isn't working well, he can still push the ball down the field similar to what Tyler Bray can do.
Of course, Justin Worley isn't Tyler Bray. He is talented, but he doesn't have that "it" factor that Bray has. Worley has shown the propensity to be a better student of the game though, and you saw that as the game progressed so did his play against South Carolina.
Against Middle Tennessee State, he will have the opportunity to get into a comfort zone against a less than stellar defense. He can gain some confidence and show that he can run the offense during a game. There is no substitution for experience, and he is gaining it.
Yes, the offense was anemic last week, but it takes an entire unit not performing for it to perform that badly. MTSU will not provide much of a challenge, which should allow this offense to get comfortable with it's new signal caller.
Matt Simms is gone after this season, the redshirt is gone, and Worley is the backup for at least one more season with Bray being healthy next year. Justin Worley can be a good quarterback and the coaches know this and so does the team. They know they didn't help him out very much, and if they play better, the passing game can be somewhat like it was with Bray under center.
If Worley can get the team into the right checks in the run game, then the offense might actually show some semblance of balance, which it doesn't have even without Tyler Bray. The experience Worley is gaining now, will pay dividends for him moving forward.
There is no guarantee that Tyler will be back this season, which means it will be Worley's offense. The passing game showed signs of life against South Carolina, and it should only get better with more gametime under Justin's belt. This team is built to toss it around the yard right now and if it can, the team has a chance to salvage this season and make it to a bowl game.