A secret that started leaking Sunday night was confirmed early Monday afternoon.
Tennessee true quarterback Justin Worley (14) will start against 13th-ranked South Carolina on Monday.
True freshman Justin Worley, who has never attempted a pass in a college game, will be Tennessee’s starting quarterback Saturday in Neyland Stadium against 13th-ranked South Carolina.
Second-year UT coach Derek Dooley confirmed the news Monday afternoon, along with several other depth-chart adjustments.
Worley, the reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year from Rock Hill, S.C., debuted in last weekend’s 37-6 loss at No. 2 Alabama, but he didn’t attempt a pass. The plan was for him to air it out a bit, but the Vols fumbled on his first play from scrimmage and took the ball inside their own 1-yard line on his second and final possession.
Regardless, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound rookie is starting against the nation’s 13th-ranked team just three weeks after everyone in the program was still fully expecting him to redshirt.
“We’re going to start Justin at quarterback,” Dooley said. “I know that’ll be the big story line.”
“I just feel like it’s something we need to do,” Dooley said. “I think we have to be very cautious to say, ‘It’s like last year,’ because I know that’s what everybody thinks, but we had a lot more data on Tyler going into last season when I made the move than I do right now on Justin. We played Tyler in the first game, we played him at Georgia, we played him against Alabama, we played him at South Carolina, and he was the No. 2 the whole time (since) he got here.
“This one’s a little different, and so I don’t know what it’s going to look like on Saturday. So I’m doing it with a little less expectation of what I’ll see, I guess is how I’m going to say it. Last year, I felt like I knew what I was going to see.
“This year I’m not so sure, but I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
Dooley admitted he “didn’t want to play Justin this year,” but the coach reiterated that he didn’t feel like he had a choice after watching UT’s offense the past two weeks.
“I just feel like that for us to out and try to win games ... you know, we’re not throwing and catching the way we need to, and we’re not calling the game the way we want to,” Dooley said. “And so we just need to make this move, you know? It’s not something that’s done on a whim.
“We have a lot of data to make a switch. We don’t have a lot of data on Justin.”
Regardless, Dooley said, it’s time for a change.
“You’ve got to answer the bell sometimes on offense. And the last two games, we couldn’t answer the bell,” the coach said. “But I’m making these personnel decisions (based) on trying to win football games, you know? I’m saying it like I said it last year. We made a lot (of changes) last year, and (you do) until you get performance, consistent performance. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results.
“Now, sometimes you keep doing the same things, but you’re seeing progress that a lot of the fans don’t see — whether it’s in practice, or little things in a game — and so you stay with it. But other times, you don’t see the progress that you need to see as a coach, so you’ve got to make a change.”
And sometimes, you don’t know much about the person you’re putting in the lineup.
Such is life for Tennessee at the moment, it seems.
“Quite frankly, we didn’t want to play Justin this year,” Dooley said. “I didn’t want to play him, but I believe that’s what we need to do to try to win the game. And I may be wrong.
“And if I’m wrong, I’m wrong.”
Dooley said Worley’s day-to-day performance in recent practices has eased his mind — if only a little bit — about the decision.
“We’ve seen a big difference in (Worley) since Tyler got hurt,” Dooley said. “Before Tyler got hurt, we were really pushing him to invest more, pushing him to be more focused week-to-week, and it’s human nature when you’re the 3. It’s hard to do. You’re not going to play.
“Tyler came in as the 2, so we had our foot up his tail from day 1, because he was one snap away. Well, Justin, we massaged him a little bit more, because he wasn’t one snap away. But the last couple of weeks, we’ve pushed him pretty hard, and he’s responded really well.
“He has a lot of good qualities. You’ll see them on Saturday.”
Coach Derek Dooley and senior quarterback Matt Simms talk during Saturday's loss at Alabama.
Dooley chuckled when asked why he announced the move on a Monday, rather than letting Worley and Simms battle in practice this week for the spot.
“Cause I know what I want to do, and we made the decision,” the coach said. I could sit there and try to hide it from you guys and hide it from (South Carolina defensive coordinator) Ellis (Johnson) will be licking his chops either way, so what’s the point, you know?
“Get it all out. Go play. Who cares?”
Dooley stood by his decision but said his Sunday night conversation with Simms — a player he’s always seemed to like on a personal level — wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
“It’s very hard,” he said. “It’s the probably the hardest part of your job, to look a kid in the eye and say, you know, ‘You’re not starting.’ But I told Matt, I reminded Matt again — and it’s hard — that, ‘You can not define who you are as a man, and even who you are as a competitor, by the result. You just can’t.
“And I told him, he’s in a very similar situation (as me). Quarterbacks are like head coaches. They are. They get criticized when the results don’t go the way everybody wants them, and the only way you can manage through all that criticism is to understand who you are and what you’re doing, and you believe you’re doing the best you can. And if you do, you can’t let it affect you.
“Now, that’s easier said than done, you know, when you things thrown at you. It’s a lot tougher for guy who’s in college, but that’s the position. That’s how it is, you know? So you’ve got to learn to deal with it, and he’s going to be fine. He’s going to be fine. He’s not the first to go through tough.
“Think about what the guy (Stephen Garcia) who was on the team we’re playing this week has been through. You know, he’s been through a lot.”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247
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