Tennessee football: The QB Controversy is here
Okay folks … what would you like to discuss?
Yeah, I thought so. The quarterback controversy that everyone knew would inevitably be a reality is now here for the Tennessee Volunteers.
The Vols lost to Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon 41-34. The starting quarterback was Joe Milton, but he left the game in the second quarter and didn’t return. Milton completed 7 of 12 passes for only 50 yards. Redshirt senior quarterback Hendon Hooker replaced Milton, completed 15 of 21 passes for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns, and rushed 9 times for 49 yards.
Certainly this is not what new Tennessee coach Josh Heupel wanted when he took the Tennessee job back in January, but this is the reality of the situation.
Milton was Heupel’s guy. He had recruited him for years, spanning back from the time when he was the offensive coordinator at Missouri, and now when he’s the head coach at Tennessee. Heupel went through all of spring practice, saw what he had at Tennessee at the quarterback position, and wasn’t satisfied.
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Heupel had Hooker, who came from Virginia Tech, and the incumbent Harrison Bailey, who picked up a win over Vanderbilt in 2020, but otherwise wasn’t so impressive that Heupel wouldn’t have a wondering eye.
“Hendon did a great job coming off the bench, competing, giving us a chance, making some plays with his feet and being decisive with the ball in his hands,” Heupel said. “There are things he would want to do better and do differently. Obviously, the last play he had an opportunity on where we turned it over, but I thought our football team rallied around him, believed in him, and he went out there and competed. He fought extremely hard and gave us a chance in the second half.”
As you could imagine, this is the last thing that Heupel wanted to deal with heading into the next portion of the season.
“We’re going to go back and look at the tape and evaluate everybody,” Heupel said when asked by the media where the Vols would go from here at quarterback. “We’ll evaluate the quarterback position as well, but we’ll evaluate everyone and how they played so that may be more opportunities for guys and some of it may just be cleaning up some things that they can control and be better at.”
I’m curious where Bailey factors into this equation, if at all. Bailey did not play poorly at the end of the 2020 season when he was finally given a chance to play. Former coach Jeremy Pruitt was reluctant to see what Bailey could do, but was given no choice when Jarrett Guarantano’s struggles were finally too crushing to ignore.
Heupel has obviously soured on Bailey, who hasn’t seen the field for even a single snap in the first 2 games of the 2021 season. It will not be a surprise if Bailey weighs his options and hits the transfer portal in a couple of months if this trend continues.
No matter who is the quarterback, Tennessee won’t beat even average opponents if the running game sputters again. The Vols offensive line didn’t do running backs Jabari Small or Jaylen Wright any favors. The absence of running back Tiyon Evans was glaring as well.
Quarterback controversies are nothing new at Tennessee. With the exception of the Josh Dobbs era, UT hasn’t found a guy that could take control of the position in recent seasons. The current uncertainty will not be solved in a week. Tennessee will face Tennessee Tech next weekend at Neyland Stadium in a game that will basically become a tryout.
This is Heupel’s first true test as Tennessee’s football coach. Just how he handles this will go a long way towards defining his tenure in Knoxville.