TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tennessee’s quarterback saga took another twist Saturday night.
With the Volunteers trailing 37-6 in the fourth quarter at second-ranked Alabama, coach Derek Dooley decided to put true freshman Justin Worley in the game in relief of Matt Simms. UT would have preferred to redshirt the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder, but Tyler Bray’s broken thumb, Simms’ struggles and the Vols’ large deficit resulted in a change.
Simms was pulled with nine minutes left in the game after a poor throw that was deflected by Crimson Tide linebacker Nico Johnson and intercepted by Dont’a Hightower.
“Can’t give up a sack, can’t hold the ball, can’t hold it and throw it over the middle late or it’s going to get picked,” Dooley said. “That’s what happened. We put Worley in, and it was unfortunate. We wanted to put him in and throw it a little bit.”
Marlin Lane fumbled on Worley’s first snap. When the Vols got the ball back, they were on their own 1-yard line. Simms has completed just 14 of his 37 passes in two starts since Bray got hurt against Georgia.
“I’ve never worried about redshirts,” Dooley said. “I don’t care. These guys don’t worry about staying for four years anymore, so why should we worry about redshirts?”
Worley set numerous passing records in South Carolina in an up-tempo pass-heavy attack at Rock Hill Northwestern High School. He enrolled at UT in January and went through spring drills.
“Given the situation, they told me why,” Simms said. “That’s fine, I understand. If something does happen to me, he has to be ready. It’s good for him to get experience out there.
“They were going to give him a few reps at the end of the game. I made a bad decision the play before.”
UT kept tinkering with its secondary, but the shuffling went beyond the fifth different starting lineup.
Junior college transfer Byron Moore was the nickel back when the Vols went into their passing-down package, joining cornerbacks Izauea Lanier and Prentiss Waggner and safeties Brent Brewer and freshman Brian Randolph. Moore’s lone tackle this season came on kickoff coverage.
“Byron has been having a good week of practice,” Waggner said. “He’s very comfortable with the system we’re running right now, and I think Byron’s going to get more snaps. I think he came in overweight, but he did a good job of slimming down. He’s a lot quicker than he used to be.”
Randolph finished with nine tackles, but Brewer had no tackles and Waggner and Marsalis Teague were burned for long completions.
Kicker Michael Palardy had a first half Saturday night he probably won’t soon forget.
The sophomore hit two field goals, including a career long from 52 yards that tied the game at 6 in the second quarter. Palardy’s previous career long was a 44-yarder two weeks ago against Georgia, and it was UT’s longest field goal since Jeff Hall hit a 53-yarder against Oklahoma State in 1995.
Palardy’s long kick ended a drive in which he threw a first-down pass on a fourth-down fake-punt call from the UT 47. Anthony Anderson caught the pass, and a 15-yard facemask penalty set up the Vols for the field goal.
“I needed a game like this to put me back where I’m supposed to be to show everybody who I am,” said Palardy, who also handled the punting duties instead of redshirt freshman Matt Darr.
Austin Johnson’s interception of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was only the Vols’ second of the season and first in 349 defensive plays since cornerback Art Evans returned one for a touchdown in the season opener against Montana. ... Malik Jackson’s sack of McCarron right before halftime was the defensive lineman’s first of the season, after the senior had five last season. ... Bray and injured receiver Justin Hunter traveled with the team to Tuscaloosa. ... Bullard, Jackson, senior defensive end Ben Martin and junior tight end Mychal Rivera were UT’s captains. ... Lane took over kickoff return duties with Tauren Poole in the fourth quarter instead of freshman Devrin Young. ... Receiver Zach Rogers was slow to get up after Hightower’s interception and return early in the fourth quarter.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...