Oct. 24, 2011
KNOXVILLE - After seeing his first career action in the fourth quarter at Alabama, Tennessee freshman quarterback Justin Worley will get his first start Saturday when the Vols play host to South Carolina at Neyland Stadium (7:15 p.m. ET; ESPN2).
"I just feel like for us to go out and try to win games, we are not throwing and catching the way we need to and we're not calling the game the way we want to," head coach Derek Dooley said. "We just need to make this move. It's not something that is done on a whim. We have a lot of data to make a switch. We don't have a lot of data on Justin."
Worley, a Rock Hill, S.C., native, played two possessions totaling five snaps against the Tide, but didn't attempt a pass. The data the Vols do have on Worley, however, shows he's a winner.
At Northwestern H.S., Worley became the first high school athlete in any sport in South Carolina to earn the Gatorade National Player of the Year, while leading his team to the state's Class AAAA Division II State Championship.
Worley scripted an impressive resume during his prep career, finishing with 13,385 passing yards and 157 touchdowns, including a state-record 64 scoring tosses in 2010. His Tennessee resume remains to be written.
"He was a gun guy, but you are getting that a lot now a days with these offenses in high school," Dooley said. "They just spread it out and gun snap. We are a pro-style offense, but that is what Justin wanted. He could have just as easily picked a team that was a spread team, but I think it just shows you the kind of guy that he is.
"He believed in our program, but he also wanted to play in that type of offense because I'm sure he has dreams one day. He wants to get in there and learn it and do it. He has done well."
"We have seen a big difference in him since Tyler (Bray) got hurt," Dooley said. "Before Tyler got hurt, we were really pushing him to invest more and pushing him to be more focused week to week. It's human nature when you are the three, it's hard to do. You aren't going to play.
"That is why I said Tyler came in as the two. We had our foot up his tail from day one because he was one snap away. (With) Justin we massaged him a little bit more because he wasn't one snap away. The last couple of weeks we have pushed him pretty hard and he has responded pretty well. He has a lot of good qualities and you will see them on Saturday."
MORE ACTION FOR JACKSON
Not only will Worley start Saturday, but another change was also made within the unit protecting him.
"He is a bigger, more powerful player," Dooley said. "It's sad to admit this, but when he got here in February, he benched more than anybody on our whole O-Line. That is where we were from a development standpoint. He has the stature, the explosive power and the physical tools.
"What he hasn't impressed us with is his consistency, but again we are not getting the performance we need so we have to make a change."
Dooley would've preferred to redshirt Stone in 2010, but didn't have the `luxury' of depth. While the offensive lineman isn't where he needs to be physically, he maintains one of the team's top work ethics.
"I am going to tell you nobody invests more and works harder than James Stone and has a better attitude," Dooley said. `He is just an incredible young man, but it's not personal."
Defying both their age and lack of experience, freshmen linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt have quickly established themselves as two of Tennessee's top defensive players.
Against the top two teams in the nation over the last two weeks, the two first-year Vols have combined to record 37 tackles, including a team-high 24 by Johnson alone. He currently leads all SEC freshmen with 45 tackles on the season, while Maggitt ranks third in the league with 34.
In a hostile environment at No. 2 Alabama, Johnson posted his best effort to date, tallying 13 tackles, the most by a Tennessee player this season and the second-most by a true freshman in UT history, en route to being named the SEC Freshman of the Week.
"(A.J.) has been great," Dooley said. "He's a guy - we talk about not getting affected, and it's not always just youth, it really isn't. A.J. and Curt (Maggitt), they haven't been affected. We're down 20-6, it doesn't bother them. I think it's a competitive character that some guys have, there's a competitive character that some guys develop, and there's a competitive character that some guys never have.
"So you've got three groups. You've got some who can never do it, meaning mentally competing when it gets tough. Some guys you can teach them how to do it and they start figuring it out the more battles they are in. Then you've got some guys who do it, and he's one of those guys. That's the baller. I already said that line: `He's a baller, man.' Those baller guys, I don't have to lecture A.J. on not getting affected. Every play he tries to splatter the guy next to him. Curt's the same way."
Combining their efforts with fellow freshman Brian Randolph at free safety, the Vols are currently the only team in Division I FBS with three freshmen (true or redshirt) among its top six tackle leaders. Johnson is also the only true freshman in D-I FBS to own or share his team lead for tackles.
Tennessee's Homecoming game vs. Middle Tennessee on Nov. 5 is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Fox Sports Net.