Freshman quarterback Casey Clausen made his first college appearance in a 2000 mismatch against Louisiana-Monroe. He threw a touchdown on his very first pass attempt and gained invaluable experience as the Vols rolled to a 70-3 victory. Clausen wound up being a four-year starter.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray made his first college start in a 2010 mismatch against Memphis. He lit up the Tigers for 308 first-half passing yards and gained invaluable experience as the Vols stormed to a 50-14 victory. Bray would've been a four-year starter if he hadn't skipped his senior year in favor of the NFL Draft.
Clearly, there is something to be said for letting a freshman quarterback build some confidence by throwing for a bunch of yards against an inferior opponent. So, maybe it's time to give current freshman Riley Ferguson that opportunity.
With Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman behind center, the past two games have seen Tennessee muster just 316 yards of offense and one touchdown in a 59-14 Game 3 loss to Oregon, followed by 220 yards and one offensive TD in Saturday's 31-17 loss to Florida.
It appears that Tennessee's offense lacks the skill-position playmakers to afford the luxury of a game manager at quarterback. So, why not give the rifle-armed Ferguson a shot in Game 5 against South Alabama? Maybe, like Clausen and Bray before him, he'll discover that putting up big numbers against an inferior opponent is a good way to kick-start a career.
The big picture
Fans always are unhappy after a loss but Tennessee is exactly where most people expected it to be through four games. The Vols were supposed to beat Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, which they did. Then they were supposed to lose at Oregon and Florida, which they did. Minus Bray and the top four receivers from 2012, the passing attack was supposed to be limited ... which it is. With freshmen and walk-ons playing key roles in the secondary, the pass defense was supposed to be vulnerable ... which it is.
Even in losing 31-17 at Florida, however, Tennessee showed flashes that it can play SEC-caliber football. The Vols just need to get more plays from quarterback position, plus grow up quickly at wideout and cornerback.
Bottom line: This season still can be salvaged. Everybody figured the team would be 2-2 through four games. They just thought the ride might be a little smoother.
Players of the game
Offense: Alton Howard
"Pig" finally showed some of the big-play ability fans have been expecting since he arrived in Knoxville a year ago. After averaging a paltry 4.2 yards per catch in 2012 and 9.2 ypc through the first three games of 2013, the sophomore slot receiver burned Florida for 76 yards on four receptions, an average of 19 yards per catch. One of the grabs was an 18-yarder for Tennessee's final touchdown. Given how limited the Vols are offensively, they desperately need for Howard to develop into the home-run threat his speed suggests he can be.
Defense: Brian Randolph
The sophomore safety seemed to be all over the field in The Swamp, recording 8 solos, 3 assists and 2 tackles for loss. Randolph's combination of athleticism and intelligence makes him incredibly valuable to a Vol secondary that must make huge strides in the weeks ahead if Tennessee is to qualify for a bowl bid.
South Alabama (Sept. 28 in Knoxville): The Jaguars enjoyed an open date this week. They will bring a 2-1 record to Neyland Stadium by virtue of a season-opening 22-21 loss to Southern Utah, a 41-39 win at Tulane and a 31-24 defeat of Western Kentucky. And, yes, that's the same Hilltopper team Tennessee beat 52-20 in Week 2.