Josh Heupel answered a question regarding Tennessee’s quarterback situation on Monday with a passing thought. How ironic – for now anyway.
The Vols’ first-year head coach dismissed without elaborating any connection between the prevailing uncertainty at the position and adversity. Heupel then said “multiple factors” will determine who starts against Tennessee Tech on Saturday.
Heupel played quarterback at Oklahoma and has coached the position at multiple schools.
He was a Heisman Trophy runner-up and has helped develop QBs who won the coveted award. Therefore, he has considerable experience with what goes on behind center.
He said being a former QB impacts, “the dialogue that you have with them, how you try to handle them.”
As a coach, Heupel has developed a better appreciation for the inevitability of injury, which has reinforced the need for QB depth.
“You guys have heard me say it multiple times,” Heupel said. “The strength of the position can’t be just one guy.”
The health of Vols quarterback Joe Milton III, who started the first two games, is one of those aforementioned factors. He was knocked out of Saturday’s 41-34 loss to Pitt after being sacked in the second quarter.
“We’ll find out where Joe is here in the middle of the week,” Heupel said.
Milton had 108 yards of total offense against the Panthers. He was 7-for-12 passing for 50 yards but overthrew open receivers JaVonta Peyton and Cedric Tillman on first-quarter passes that could’ve resulted in touchdowns. Milton has struggled with accuracy on deep throws in both of his starts.
Heupel and Milton have watched film and apparently have considered Milton’s options for correcting his issues.
“Whether that’s more air under the ball, whether it’s driving it on (the receivers) on a couple of them,” Heupel said. “At the end of the day, the quarterback’s got to make it right with his arm and deliver (the ball) accurately.”
Hendon Hooker replaced Milton on Saturday and threw for 188 yards and two TDs. He directed scoring drives that yielded three touchdowns. Heupel thought Hooker’s decision-making was sound and his pocket presence was sufficient.
“He stood in there and got hit on a couple of throws and delivered the football accurately down the football field,” Heupel said.
Hooker's accuracy backfired on his final throw, however. He hit Pitt defensive back Brandon Hill, who was breaking toward the middle of the field, in stride in the fourth quarter. The interception ended UT’s final chance at a possible game-tying score.
Any turnover is a factor to consider going forward.
In other matters:
-Heupel said Byron Young will be eligible to play on Saturday after being sidelined for the first two games by eligibility issues. Young was a bright spot in preseason camp and figures to boost UT’s pass rush.
-Heupel had no injury updates regarding running backs Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small or wide receiver Jalin Hyatt. Evans missed the Pitt game because of injury while Hyatt and Small got hurt during the game.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.