The quarterback position at Tennessee took a turn against Pittsburgh after starter Joe Milton was knocked out of the game with an injury. The injury came at a time where Milton was struggling, not particularly with reads, but with pure accuracy.
Tennessee saw several receivers come free down the field, which should have been a welcomed sight with Milton’s big arm. However, the Michigan transfer missed every opportunity, failing to put Pittsburgh in an early hole.
Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker took his place. It’s worth wondering what would have happened had Milton not gotten hurt, but Heupel did confirm it was an injury that forced Milton to the bench on Saturday.
“He was (injured). Couldn’t come back,” Heupel said. “Hendon did a great job. Coming off the bench, competing, giving us a chance. Made some plays with his feet, made some plays with the ball in his hands. Yeah, there are things he would want to do better, do differently. Obviously the last play, he’s got an opportunity where we turn it over. But I thought the team rallied around him, they believed in him. He went out there and competed extremely hard, gave us a chance in the second half.”
Heupel did not have an injury update after the game.
Milton finished 7-12 for 50 yards, adding 54 yards rushing. Hooker went 15-21 for 188 yards, tossing two touchdowns and one interception, while going for 49 yards rushing on the ground.
The offense was much more efficient with Hooker running the show after he found his groove. Heupel went to a shorter passing game, still utilizing pace and Hooker’s ability to run. He found tight ends Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren often, while using Velus Jones in the short passing attack nicely. Hooker got some help late in the second quarter to find a spark, as Jimmy Calloway housed a simple wide receiver screen from 44 yards out.
It was an admirable effort from the Vols, who lost Milton, Jabari Small and Jalin Hyatt to injury. They were already playing without running back Tiyon Evans and center Cooper Mays.
But now we have a big question — what happens at quarterback if Milton is healthy? That’s a question that won’t be going away this week, and Heupel obviously wasn’t ready to speak much on it without watching the tape.
“We’re going to go back and watch the tape and evaluate everybody,” Heupel said. “We’ll evaluate the quarterback position as well. Evaluate everybody and how they played. Some of that may mean more opportunities for other guys. Some of it may be just cleaning up some things they can control and be better at.”
Tennessee does have a week where they could potentially split reps to figure some things out here, with Tennessee Tech up next.