By Robert Holder
KNOXVILLE — It may take Matt Simms a little while to settle his nerves on Saturday.
After all, the University of Tennessee’s new starting quarterback hasn’t even seen Neyland Stadium filled to capacity.
The El Camino (Calif.) Community College and University of Louisville transfer never took an official visit to see the Volunteers last season, and he admitted the moments immediately proceeding Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff against UT-Martin should be an experience he won’t soon forget.
“I don’t know if there is any way possible to prepare for a situation like that,” Simms said. “If I didn’t have any nerves, I wouldn’t be human. I am just excited to be out there. Of course I’m going to be nervous that first play, but as soon as I get banged around a little bit it will go away.”
Simms, like many new Vols, said he’s most looking forward to running through the ‘T.’
“I have played it through my mind a million times, almost everyday since I have been here,” he said. “Even though each time I play it over in my mind it gets better, it’s not going to compare to when I actually do it for the first time. I am just going to try and stay focused and not keep my mouth wide open just looking around at the place.”
The quarterback said homework has calmed his nerves all week.
“One of the positive things is I have a lot of schoolwork to do,” Simms said. “I have got to do a lot of reading these next few days, actually.”
UT offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney isn’t just looking for a fast start but a continuous effort throughout Saturday’s game.
The Skyhawks return seven starters on defense, including preseason FCS All-American linebacker Josh Bey.
“We want to go out and execute our offense not only on the first play but the last play of the ball game,” Chaney said. “We are looking for efficiency from the time we walk on the field to the time we walk off. That is the key for us.
“If we can generate a few explosive plays that turn into points, we will be tickled to death.”
UT head coach Derek Dooley said sophomore Herman Lathers will start Saturday over senior Savion Frazier at weakside linebacker, but that both would play. The two were bracketed atop Monday’s initial game-week depth chart.
Lathers, a 6-foot, 217-pound sophomore, started the final five games last season at middle linebacker after Frazier tore his ACL. Lathers had 52 tackles in 13 games — 43 in his five starts — and finished fifth on the team in total stops.
“It’s like a lot of these positions. It’s hard for us,” Dooley said. “We don’t really have a script. We’ve got to go in there and see how the game goes and see what we have to do. There’s so much unknown on how are players are going to play. I’ve got an idea how some of the older guys are going to play because I’ve seen them on film. But all the new guys, I don’t know how they’re going to play.
“We’ve just got to see it and make some good gameday adjustments, if we need to.”
Staff writer Wes Rucker contributed to this story.