Well, the Tennessee quarterback yo-yo has rolled back to Justin Worley after Nathan Peterman’s disastrous first half against Florida on Saturday.
And the back-up slot is now between freshmen Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs.
Turns out Peterman suffered an injury to his throwing hand in the Vols’ offensively embarrassing 31-7 loss to the Gators and will be sidelined for a period of time after undergoing surgery on Monday.
“Nate will be out at least four weeks,” Vols coach Butch Jones said in remarks from his press conference posted on the Tennessee athletic website. “He will not play this week.”
Peterman got his first college start against the 19th-ranked Florida and appeared overwhelmed by the challenge before 90,000-plus rabid fans in The Swamp. He completed just 4-of-11 passes for 5 yards and two interceptions and was yanked at halftime.
Worley came on in relief and went 10-for-23 for 149 yards, but also was intercepted twice.
The game – Tennessee lost to Florida for the ninth straight time – turned into a battle of back-up signal callers and Florida’s Tyler Murphy was a big-time winner of the under-center sweepstakes.
Murphy came on for starter Jeff Driskel, who was tackled by Marlon Walls and suffered a broken right leg on the play he threw an interception that the Vols’ freshman walk-on Devaun Swafford returned 52 yards for a touchdown.
Walls sent Driskel a Twitter message after the game: “I know what kind of competitor you are. I know you’ll compete and come back even better.”
Murphy, who hadn’t played since high school, completed 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards, but kept the ball in his own teammates’ hands. He also rushed for 84 yards, which was more than Tennessee’s entire backfield – by 18 yards.
“I think everything we talk about in our football program is creating a standard of performance,” Jones said. “You can’t win football games if you turn the football over (six times). I didn’t think we managed the critical situations, the critical downs (at) critical stages of the game.
“You never know which two or three plays are going to make the difference in the football game.”
Vols offensive lineman Ja’Waun James wasn’t aware that Peterman had suffered an injury during the game.
“I know he told me after the game that he was feeling kind of hurt after losing the ball (on a fumbled exchange), and the defensive lineman caught it,” James said. “He didn’t show any signs of (being hurt)”
James also said he talked with Peterman on the bus ride to the airport after the game, trying to encourage the young quarterback.
“I let him know you’re going to make mistakes,” James said. “You can’t let one game define your whole career. I had to play as a freshman, too. I let him know you will get a lot of criticism, especially from guys in the media and stuff like that.
“I told him to keep working and when the opportunity comes again just be ready.”
Jones said while Worley is again the starter, the freshmen will get “ample amounts of repetitions” this week during practice. “We have to do a great job of getting them ready to play mentally and physically as well,” Jones said.
What is Jones looking for from the youngsters?
“Confidence level, the ability to manage our offense, the leadership aspect, that command presence, that alpha male,” Jones said.
Jones flatly said he will not just hand playing time to the youngsters.
“Just like anything in our program they are going to have to earn their spot,” he said.
Ferguson made the travel squad for the Florida game, but Dobbs remained in Knoxville. No one, Jones said, should mistake that for Ferguson having an edge over Dobbs.
“Absolutely no indication of who’s ahead of each other,” Jones said. “It’s one of those extremely challenging and difficult situations that you have to make as a coaching staff. There are travel limitations within the SEC and so you can only take a certain amount of players on the road and we thought we needed more help in different areas and only had the luxury of traveling three quarterbacks.”
And he won’t be starting over with Worley in rebuilding the junior’s confidence.
“No,” Jones said. “He understands. I thought he took some strides forward. Our quarterbacks can’t make catastrophic mistakes. … Throw the ball away. Leave no doubt. I said it after the game that sometimes punt is the only way.”
Jones also addressed the up-tempo offense that he promised, but has yet to be delivered through the first four games. Jones was shown on the sideline a few times imploring the Vols to pick up the pace that never reached fruition.
“We’re not close, but a lot of those are two- or three-and-outs,” he said. “You can’t have three-and-outs. I thought we put our defense in some really negative situations field position-wise. That’s going to be our focus this week.”
The Vols have a chance to shake off the ill-effects of back-to-back losses to nationally ranked Oregon and Florida by taking care of business against South Alabama on Saturday. Game time is 12:21 p.m. and the SEC Network will televise the action at Neyland Stadium.
The Jaguars, who are members of the Sun Belt Conference, have won back-to-back games, including a 31-24 win over Western Kentucky, a team Tennessee shellacked 52-20, on Sept. 7 at Neyland Stadium. They are coming off a bye week.
“You have South Alabama coming in here not feeling sorry for us,” Jones said. “They have a good up-tempo in their offense and they try to get the ball on the edges. Defensively, they’re athletic, physical and very aggressive. They bring a lot of pressure.”
South Alabama coach Joey Jones believes his players are looking forward to playing in Tennessee’s 100,000-seat stadium.
“They’re looking forward to that environment,” Jones said. “Being in a stadium like that with 100,000-plus people in the stadium is something we want to do. It will certainly be fun for our players.”
Odds are the crowd will be much smaller than 100,000 and Butch Jones made an appeal for students to fill their section.
“We need to get them in the stands,” he said.
Low student turnout for the Western Kentucky game wasn’t seen as a problem by Jones, but leveled the blame on a failure to communicate. Jones said he walks around campus visiting dining halls and the bookstore to remind students and faculty that everyone is “One Tennessee.”
“It’s an opportunity,” Jones said of his outreach to students. “The big thing is them knowing they’re wanted and they’re needed. They’re a big part of what we’re doing at Tennessee.”
NOTE: Jones said linebacker Curt Magitt, who has yet to play this season, probably won’t return to action this week. Will he be redshirted? “A lot will depend on his wishes and his family’s wishes as well,” Jones said.
The coach also addressed the fact that family members of some Vols are publicly calling for playing time. “That’s something we will address,” Jones said. “Let’s just say that’s part of our Vol for Life program and that’s a work in progress, and I’ll handle that.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)