With eight minutes left in Saturday night's 37-6 Game 7 loss at Alabama, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley pulled starting quarterback Matt Simms in favor of true freshman Justin Worley.
The scenario was eerily similar to last season, when Dooley benched Simms in favor of true freshman Tyler Bray midway through a 38-24 Game 8 loss at South Carolina.
The big difference is this: Bray's rocket arm gave the 2010 Vols a vertical passing game that loosened up opposing defenses and enabled the Big Orange to post a 4-1 record the rest of the season. Worley does not have a rocket arm. Like Simms, he is better suited to a dink-and-dunk attack that does not require 40-yard throws.
Many fans assume Worley will start the rest of the season, as Bray did after replacing Simms last season. That might not be the wisest course of action. Here's why:
1. Bray had thrown 47 passes as a backup before making his first start last fall. Worley has yet to throw a pass at the college level.
2. Upcoming foe South Carolina has the most ferocious pass rush in the SEC, so giving Worley his first college start against that type of pressure could shake his confidence. Last fall Tennessee gave Bray considerable backup time against South Carolina, then started him against an awful Memphis team one week later. Giving Worley some backup action this week against South Carolina would help prepare him to cut his teeth as a starter against a much weaker Middle Tennessee team next week.
3. Before being benched because of two first-half fumbles, Simms gave his finest performance as a Vol against South Carolina in last year's game. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in just two quarters of action.
Bottom line: Simms' passing vs. No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama the past two weekends was sub-standard ... a combined 14 completions in 37 attempts with three interceptions. Can Worley do better? That's a question that will be answered in the next five weeks.
Freshman Devrin Young made his first college start versus Bama. He opened in place of fullback Ben Bartholomew as Tennessee went with two tailbacks, Young and senior Tauren Poole.
Young was one of four freshmen who started. A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt started at linebacker and fellow rookie Brian Randolph started at free safety.
Worley's fourth-quarter insertion into the lineup made him the 16th true freshman to play for the Vols this season.
Tennessee's third-quarter futility in SEC action is almost beyond belief. Alabama's offense scored touchdowns on each of its three third-quarter possessions and the Tide defense limited Tennessee to 28 net yards and zero first downs on 13 snaps. The result was a 21-0 explosion that turned a 6-6 halftime tie into a 27-6 Bama lead.
Tennessee now has been outscored 56-6 in the third quarter of its four games against SEC opposition.
IN PRAISE OF PALARDY
Michael Palardy had a fantastic game versus the Tide. The Vols' sophomore kicker booted two field goals, including a career-best 52-yarder. That was the longest field goal by a Vol since Jeff Hall nailed a 53-yarder against Oklahoma State in 1995.
Palardy punted five times for a 40-yard average with only one punt returned for a mere 4 yards. He also completed a five-yard pass on a fourth-and-four fake punt near midfield. Palardy previously converted a first down on a fake punt last November against Kentucky, running for a 16-yard gain.
A.J. PILING UP STOPS
Freshman A.J. Johnson is picking up tackles and steam the past two weekends. The 6-2, 245-pound linebacker registered a team-high 13 tackles versus Alabama after recording 11 stops a week earlier versus LSU. He is the first Vol freshman to post two double-digit tackle games in a season since Eric Berry (14 versus Kentucky, 12 versus South Carolina) did so in 2007.
TWO MORE 'OOPS' PLAYS
Tennessee's defense got burned for two more big plays Saturday night. A 69-yard first-quarter hookup between A.J. McCarron and Marquis Maze was the seventh gain of 60 yards or more the Vols have surrendered this fall. A 39-yard third-quarter connection between McCarron and Kenny Bell was the 16th play of 30 yards or more the Big Orange has allowed.
SILVER LINING DEPARTMENT
Tennessee posted 92 rushing yards Saturday night, nearly matching the combined total of Alabama's previous four SEC opponents. Arkansas, Florida, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss managed just 101 net rushing yards vs. the Tide's top-ranked run defense.
Palardy's 52-yard field goal produced the first second-quarter points Bama has allowed all season.
Tennessee freshman A.J. Johnson continues to show up at outside linebacker.