By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- When Justin Worley was named starting quarterback for Tennessee on Aug. 14, Butch Jones said that he had taken great strides from a season ago. On Sunday night, Worley showed everyone exactly what the coaches had seen in training camp.
Worley turned in the most complete performance of his career against Utah State, going 27-38 for 273 yards and three touchdowns in guiding Team 118 to 1-0.
"I thought Justin played a very productive football game," Jones said of Worley. "We played winning football at the quarterback position."
The 27 completions and 38 attempts were each career bests. His 273 yards were second only to the 291 he put up in the initial start of his Tennessee career against MTSU on Nov. 5, 2011.
"The game was moving slower than it used to," Worley said. "I didn't have the nerves that I've had in the past. It goes back to my confidence level. Confidence in these guys, confidence in our whole offensive scheme and everything."
It started on UT's second drive of the night. After a 12-yard completion to Ethan Wolf to kick off the series, Worley hit Josh Smith with a 38-yard strike to set up Alton "Pig" Howard's TD run for the game's first score.
A fumble recovery from Todd Kelly, Jr. on the ensuing kickoff gave UT the ball right back at the 12, and Worley needed just one play to cover those 12 yards with a TD pass to Brendan Downs.
The senior saved his best for the second half. Worley uncorked 13 consecutive completions covering the entire third quarter and the start of the fourth. Two of those went for touchdowns, a 14-yard score to Von Pearson and a 15-yard pass to Jalen Hurd. The 13 in a row put Worley fourth in the UT record book for most consecutive completions, passing Peyton Manning.
"I came off the field after Jalen's screen and said 'We've got some playmakers,' and we really do," Worley said. "We have playmakers across the board, from a tight end standpoint to receivers and running back. You can't focus on one guy. There are several guys that we can attack you with."
The weapons gave Worley the confidence to grow in his command of the offense, a quality Jones noticed early and often from his quarterback.
"Justin was calm and collected and he acted like he had been there before," Jones said. "He was kind of a calming presence on the sideline. I thought our receivers, for the most part, did a good job of catching the football. They made some really good catches to extend drives and we haven't had that in the past, so it was great to see as well."