Will Josh Heupel make quarterback switch after Tennessee football lost to Pittsburgh?

by 24USATVSept. 12, 2021, noon 23
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Joe Milton jogged out of the tunnel after halftime at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

The Tennessee football quarterback played catch on the sideline with Hendon Hooker with his helmet on. But Milton did not return due to injury, Hooker played the final two-plus quarters and coach Josh Heupel is evaluating UT’s quarterback situation again after two games.

“We are going to go back and watch the tape and evaluate everybody,” Heupel said. “We will evaluate the quarterback position as well, but evaluate everyone in how they played. Some of that may be more opportunities for other guys. Some of it may be just cleaning up some things they can control and be better at.”

Tennessee’s transfer quarterback duo split time as the Vols (1-1) lost 41-34 to Pittsburgh (2-0).

ADAMS:If Josh Heupel had started QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee Vols probably would have won

TOPPMEYER:Tennessee football must reopen quarterback competition after loss to Pitt

ESTES:Tennessee rebuild further along than I expected, which made the Pitt loss so infuriating

Milton, a Michigan transfer, started his second straight game for the Vols. Hooker, a Virginia Tech grad transfer, finished it after Milton was unable to return, according to Heupel.

Hooker and Milton competed with returning starter Harrison Bailey during the preseason. Milton won the starting job in the final week of preseason practices, while Hooker established himself as the No. 2.

“Hendon did a great job coming off the bench (Saturday), competing, giving us a chance, making some plays with his feet and being decisive with the ball in his hands,” Heupel said. “There are things he would want to do better, do differently.”

Hooker, who started 15 games in two seasons at Virginia Tech, was 15-of-21 passing for 188 yards with a pair of touchdowns. He rushed nine times for 49 yards. He also had a pair of turnovers, including a deflating fourth-quarter interception.

The senior had a slow start after replacing Milton, who suffered an apparent lower leg injury when Panthers defensive lineman Keyshon Camp powered through Vols offensive lineman Ollie Lane and sacked Milton.

Milton went to the UT locker room and Hooker took over.

“(Hooker) gave us a chance here in the second half,” Heupel said.

The Vols went three-and-out on Hooker’s first drive. Wide receiver Jimmy Calloway had a big-time run after catch for a 44-yard touchdown on the following drive.

Hooker fumbled on a sack on UT’s first drive of the third quarter before he settled in midway and led Tennessee on a pair of touchdown drives.

Hooker used his legs to get Tennessee in the red zone midway through the fourth quarter, but the Vols were stopped on a fourth-and-1 attempt at the Pittsburgh 3. UT got the ball back then Hooker threw an interception on UT’s final offensive play.

“You better have an idea where the backside safety is,” Heupel said. “Obviously, he didn’t. The kid came over and made a play. Got his hands on the ball and made a play.”

Milton was 7-for-12 passing for 50 yards prior to his exit. He rushed five times for 54 yards thanks to a 54-yard second-quarter scamper. But the big-armed quarterback showed the same struggles with downfield accuracy that plagued him in the opener against Bowling Green.

Milton threw a perfect pass to Jalin Hyatt in the first quarter that was dropped, but whiffed on ensuing deep attempts. He overthrew three plays on Tennessee’s third drive of the game, including missing a sure touchdown to Cedric Tillman.

“We had some guys running free and weren’t able to finish the play,” Heupel said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care how you do it, you have to find a way to convert and complete those things and create big plays.”

Milton was 11-for-23 passing for 139 yards against Bowling Green. Bailey has not played this season after starting the final three games in 2020.

“It is a game-by-game evaluation,” Heupel said. “That is true for everybody. We are on this 12-game journey. That is all we get guaranteed, right? You take it one week at a time.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.

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