clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Worley, Peterman, the Florida Game, and the Awkward Question

This is the awkward moment in the season where we're completely unsure if there's a good enough quarterback on the roster to win big games for Tennessee in 2013. Failing that? Things get tricky.

Fortunately, Pig isn't a question.
Fortunately, Pig isn't a question.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Independent of hindsight, Nathan Peterman offered a wider range of possibilities than Justin Worley did going into the Florida game. There was a school of thought which I understand (but don't take part in) that you want the most stable option going in to a big game where the game-winner is simply the team who shoots themselves in the foot less. That gives too much credit to Tennessee's talent level and not enough credit to Florida's talent level.

I figured that this team wasn't good enough to beat Florida without taking some sort of chance, which pointed to either Peterman or, say, Pig Howard starting in shotgun and just abandoning the pass. Right now, Tennessee has to employ higher-variance strategies to win games against more talented opponents. This isn't a knock on Butch Jones, and credit to him for figuring that out three games in.

2. That being said, yeah, Peterman pretty much threw up the worst game possible - one more time: 4/11, 5 yards, 2 INT. Compared to that, Worley's line looked fantastic - 10/23, 149 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT. That 6.5 YPA is right in line with his season average, for the record, and those overall stats are still pretty terrible. I suspect 6.5 YPA isn't going to cut it in most other games, either. If Peterman offered a chance of a more explosive offense, I think you have to take that chance. Worley putting that line up for the full game - assuming no changes in passing plays - probably looks like 16/34, 190 yards, maybe 2 TD, 3 INT, something like that. That line isn't beating Florida either. (Even 2 TD, 2 INT isn't winning that game while we're here.)

3. Of course, the math also changes when the QB we wanted to face gets knocked out of the game and a relative unknown comes in. Tyler Murphy was decent, not much more beyond that, but he can run and appeared to do the thing that Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football needs: not make stupid decisions. That's basically your bar, and he didn't have a problem getting there.

As weird as it sounds, part of me's convinced that had Jeff Driskel played 60 minutes, this game would've hurt a lot more. So it goes.

4. Driskel's injury made what could have been an argument supporting Peterman into a fairly obvious one for Worley; if the hand grenade that is Jeff Driskel's decision-making gets removed from the game, the salient play is to reduce the risk on your end. There's no guarantee it'll be successful - again, Worley wasn't exactly good - but putting the ball on the ground or into the waiting hands of Florida defenders probably doesn't help anyone's case.

There were - from what I can tell - six drives during this weird Murphy-Peterman gap. They went as follows: fumble (blindside sack and the ensuing ball protection coaching point), interception (eight-play drive), punt, punt, interception (this was the weird one that just slipped out of Peterman's hands). Does that happen with Worley? Maybe, maybe not; you'll have a hard time selling me that there's a fifteen-point swing going between Worley's virtual performance and Peterman's actual performance. Florida scored 10 points off those turnovers, for the record.

5. Also, if you're the type who thinks that Tennessee used all their luck on the WKU game: the ball hit the ground 8 times yesterday and Tennessee recovered it only twice. (Fumble recovery rates are about 50% / team normally, but obviously weird blips like Saturday happen.) Florida also rolled up only 44 yards in penalties (including a targeting call after the game was effectively done with), which quite frankly wasn't enough implosion to let Tennessee do much of anything. Tennessee needed both those things to break in their favor to have a chance; those were the free margins and free yards Tennessee needed to win. Neither happened.

6. Other things to note that we'll forget about in the somber wishing for Tyler Bray to have more eligibility impending QB discussion: the defense actually had a fairly decent game, the Solomon Patton TD excepted. Florida had 2 good drives - 11 plays, 79 yards, and 11 plays, 84 yards - and didn't do a ton as far as sustained drives went (as both own and distance go) other than those. You can point to those TDs, point to the final margin, and try and make a connection. The problem - for the most part - wasn't these guys. Neither was Michael Palardy, who was as nice a weapon as we would've liked. Tennessee also went 5-13 on third down, which - well, you'd like to avoid 13 third downs, but 5-13 isn't the end of the world.

7. Of course, we'd expect that, and you'll probably hear it trotted out that Florida ran for 216 yards. What they won't trot out is that it came on 3.8 yards per carry, which isn't awful on our defense. The problem this year won't be stopping power teams; it'll be the lack of speed on the edges against the best teams. That being said, I think this defense won't hold the team back, and I really wish there was some world where I could've said that last season and we could've hired Butch Jones anyway this past offseason.

8. Pig Howard looked good, and I was impressed enough with Marquez North. Our WR crop seems to have a couple of budding solid performers, although - hey, guess what? - it'll be difficult to tell until we can find someone who can get them the ball consistently. WR performance is normally wildly divergent week-to-week, so buyer beware to an extent, and neither guy is good enough yet to make the crop of QBs look good. In probably-related news, forgoing swing passes until there's a better decision-making tree to actually have those get more than 3 yards a pop. Also related: WR drops will do nobody any favors, especially given the error margin for this team.

9. And we're back to the error margin discussion. I still think this was the worst possible outcome for Peterman (I mean, you try and think of something worse), which means one of two things: he's done and it's Riley Ferguson's time to shine, or he'll get an opportunity for garbage time redemption. We know what we'll get with Justin Worley at this point. Personally, I doubt Worley will ever do enough to win a bigger game, but he might do enough not to lose one.

10. The best idea I've seen going forward is right here. I was actually going to write about most of this, but fortunately I don't need to now. The only caveats I'll offer are these: who should start later in the season also depends on what kind of performance this team needs. If you're wildly cynical about these things, I'd probably throw Ferguson to the wolves in the second half of the Alabama game if it's out of hand; I'd also give Ferguson a small set of plays to master and run two scripted drives in the Georgia game if there's a chance to do it. Also related: if Ferguson can establish a connection with North a la the Bray-Justin Hunter connection, that may be the best possible case this year.

Ultimately, I don't think the problem had to do with decision-making processes on the part of the coaching staff; Peterman simply went out and had a blinder against a game that - once again - looked illusory. Equally importantly, we're now asking much better questions than we were asking on Friday. We learned a lot about what we can and can't expect, and in a season that's as much about 2014 (and 2015) as 2013, this matters.