Tennessee is seeing halfway decent showings develop into indecent exposures, and it got ugly enough to strip freshman quarterback Justin Worley’s redshirt during a 37-6 loss Saturday at No. 2 Alabama.
Senior quarterback Matt Simms seemed serviceable after the Volunteers lost Tyler Bray to a broken thumb during a dismal second half in a home loss to Georgia on Oct. 8, and Simms did score the Vols’ only touchdown against the Bulldogs.
But he was shaky, at best, in a 38-7 home loss to No. 1 LSU on Oct. 15, and UT coach Derek Dooley had seen enough by the time there was 9 1/2 minutes remaining at Alabama.
Simms looks like the same player who lost his starting job to Bray at this point in the season last year. He held the ball in the pocket and threw late passes across the middle, which led to a fumble and interception. And Dooley probably had difficulty digesting Simms’ inability to sneak for six inches on a fourth-down failure when UT trailed 13-6 early in the third quarter in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama scored on a 39-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing play and was well on its way to covering a 30-point spread in a game that was tied at the half.
It’ll be interesting to see how the quarterback snaps are distributed when Tennessee (0-4, 3-4) hosts No. 14 South Carolina on Saturday (7:15 p.m., ESPN2). You know Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart would love to see the Vols spank Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks (4-1, 6-1), and an experienced Simms surely gives them the best chance.
But a somewhat experienced Worley might give UT a better chance than Simms to beat Vanderbilt in four weeks if Bray hasn’t returned, and the Vandy game could be door-die for bowl eligibility. Maybe that was part of Dooley’s reasoning when he threw Worley into the fray.
“I don’t know what his decisions were,” Spurrier said during a Sunday teleconference according to John Whittle of TheBigSpur.comâ€‰ . “I guess he wants to play the young man the rest of the season. What we try to do, if a guy isn’t going to play very much and he isn’t going to play very much, we’ll try to redshirt him his first year. If it looks like he’s going to play and help the team, we’re going to play him; simple as that.
“I would think that Tennessee is probably planning on giving that player a little more opportunity.”
Worley, who hasn’t thrown a pass, was a three-star recruit coming out of Rock Hill, S.C. He went through spring camp at Tennessee.
Simms, who absorbed numerous hard hits the past two weeks against arguably the nation’s two best defenses, is also probably nursing another bruised ego.
South Carolina’s defense isn’t the caliber of those at LSU and Alabama, but it does pressure the passer well with Melvin Ingram (5 1/2 sacks), freshman sensation Jadeveon Clowney (five sacks, four forced fumbles) and All-SEC defensive end Devin Taylor (two sacks), who returned a Bray interception for a touchdown in the Vols’ loss at USC last year.
Barring a somewhat attractive bowl opponent, the Marcus Lattimore-less Gamecocks look like Dooley’s last realistic chance this year for his first quality win in two seasons at Tennessee. The Vols must visit their other remaining ranked opponent, No. 8 Arkansas (Nov. 12). They probably won’t be quite as large of an underdog as they were in Tuscaloosa, which was surely a record, but plenty of folks in Fayetteville will probably be willing to give you the Vols with four touchdowns if Bray isn’t playing. He apparently isn’t likely to return from a broken thumb before the Vanderbilt game on Nov. 19, if then.
Tennessee should be a considerable favorite against Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 5), and might win at Kentucky (Nov. 26) even if kicker Michael Palardy was playing quarterback. But the Vols will probably need to play a complete game to beat South Carolina and, perhaps, Vanderbilt.
Tennessee’s second-half swan dives are partly due to a lack of depth, although inferior depth doesn’t instantly surface after a 20-minute breather. Opposing coaches appear to be making better adjustments than the Vols’ at intermission, particularly in the Georgia and Alabama games.
Of course, the most significant of several halftime adjustments made by Alabama was one in attitude. The Crimson Tide looked flat in the first half and flat-out irritated in the second half. During one 10-play stretch, nine Alabama snaps went for first downs or touchdowns.
The contrast in halves was similar to the Georgia and LSU losses. The Tigers, who led UT 17-7 at halftim e, possessed the ball longer in the second half than Tennessee did the entire game.
The Vols were also tied 6-6 at the half against Georgia, but the Bulldogs drove for TDs on their first two possessions in the third quarter and were never seriously threatened.
Emotion is fuel in football, and the Tennessee tank doesn’t appear to be getting refilled at halftime. Perhaps making Worley the starter for a game involving numerous Rock Hill products on the other sideline will pump up the Vols. Worley threw six TD passes in a 48-20 victory last year against South Pointe (Rock Hill), which produced five current USC players, including Clowney and Stephon Gilmore.
Or maybe Dooley can announce Worley as his starter at halftime of the South Carolina game. That’s when Bray took the wheel last year, and it’s when the Vols have been falling asleep at the wheel in recent weeks.