Butch Jones’ First Mistake as UT’s Head Coach

Updated: September 17, 2013

butch jones

Butch Jones has made his first mistake as Tennessee’s head coach. It was a big one.

To some, that may seem like blasphemy. To some, it seems obvious.

Tennessee’s first-year head coach chose not to play redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman nor true freshmen Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson in meaningful situations during the Vols’ convincing wins over its first two opponents: Austin Peay and Western Kentucky. Sure, Peterman played, but it was in mop-up duty. Jones was obviously tied to Justin Worley.

Therefore, Jones knows as much about how his younger quarterbacks will respond in game situations as he did before the Vols started the season. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis.

The three could fall on their face in game situations. It’s happened many times before. Yet Jones doesn’t know because he didn’t give any a shot against out-matched opponents, especially once Western Kentucky decided it was time to hand the Vols the ball…again…again…again…again…and again in the first half.

Jones’ reluctance to play quarterbacks not named ‘Worley” doesn’t mean the former Cincinnati coach isn’t the right man to right the ship. Optimism reigns around UT’s football program for good reason. No longer does UT’s coach at the helm seem more worried about his hair than his depth chart. Still, nobody is perfect – Jones included.

Jones wants to keep all four quarterbacks happy. That’s ridiculously unrealistic. At least one quarterback will transfer once a starter is cemented in the line-up. More could follow. Jones will eventually pick his long-term starter at quarterback. The other three won’t be happy.

During his weekly Monday press conference, Jones opened the door to play Peterman, Ferguson and/or Dobbs this season and perhaps this week. Jones was hesitant to do so in the Vols’ first two games.

Going back to the preseason, the best-case scenario for UT would have been for Worley to secure the starting job. There was as good of a chance of that happening as there was of the Vols beating Oregon. Worley has limitations that can’t be overcome.

Jones has done great things since being hired at UT. He’s instilled team spirit that Dooley never could. He has reignited the fan base. He has created a team that fights when it could have easily had the fight beaten out of it. He has also recruited at an astonishingly high level.

However, Jones’ handling of the quarterback situation has been his first major mistake as the head coach for the Vols. Some have said Worley isn’t the main problem for UT’s offense or, for that matter, its whole team. Those people are wrong.

It’s not that Worley is a total failure. However, he is a below average quarterback playing the most important position in sports. Quarterbacks are either great, good or need to be replaced. Worley fits the latter.

It’s easy to break down Worley’s performance by saying he had pressure against Oregon. Even he said that after the game. Though, the Ducks were credited with just three quarterback hurries and no sacks.

It’s easy for Worley to say he threw the ball away at times with pressure. It’s easy to wonder if Worley had pressure on him or if he was just uncomfortable with the pressure of being UT’s starting quarterback against a quality opponent.

It’s hard to know what Worley was thinking because he wasn’t made available to the media during UT’s weekly Monday media conference for the first time this season. Worley has been available to the media throughout. He was the first at UT’s media day before the season. He was absent on Monday.

Feel free to debate where the pressure that Worley spoke of came from. Feel free to make excuses for Worley.

However, there’s no excuse about his inability to produce big plays downfield. Jones admitted as much on Monday during his weekly press conference. Where were the big plays? Not in Worley’s repertoire.

That’s why Ferguson’s strong arm and Dobbs’ quick feet should have warranted a game-day look way before the Vols face the No. 3 defense in the nation against Florida on Saturday.

The two freshman quarterbacks could fall on their face during an actual college football game, in which they haven’t played. Worley may be the best option.

However, Dobbs’ and Ferguson’s play should have been judged in the Vols’ first two games. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is not a laboratory to test freshman quarterbacks.

The No. 3 defense in the nation would be a tough test for Peyton Manning. Suddenly, UT’s schedule looks even tougher. First, it’s the Gators, then a surprisingly good South Alabama team and, lastly, the meat of UT’s SEC schedule lies ahead.

In the mightily gray area of recruiting, Worley reportedly had scholarship offers from Florida, Florida State and LSU. He was surely a top prospect, right? Look deeper. Did South Carolina offer? No. Did Clemson offer. Nope.

Those that want to continue to bang the drum for Worley can continue to do so. He’s a fine young man with abilities most high school athletes dream of.

However, he’s not a quarterback that can win big games against quality opponents. Defenses find it far too easy to defend him. Don’t worry about the deep ball. While Worley has a strong arm on short passes, he can’t consistently hit receivers downfield.

One pass defines UT’s current starting quarterback – a woefully underthrown pass to receiver Marquez North in the season opener against Austin Peay. North was well behind a Governor cornerback, but North had to slide to even get his hands on the ball, which fell incomplete.

Fans will have no mercy in judging Jones if he falls short. Fast forward to 2015. If the Vols are blown out by a non-conference opponent and are a two-touchdown underdog to a rival the next week, Jones will be on a seat hotter than a rocking chair on the sun.

Why isn’t Worley? Because fans want to believe. They want to believe that Jones has made all the right decisions. He hasn’t.

Jones admitted as much when he said he’d open up the quarterback competition on Monday. Don’t suddenly doubt Jones as coach. Everyone makes mistakes.

Coaches are, by nature, conservative. They shouldn’t be.

Former UT quarterback Casey Clausen led the Vols to a win over Alabama in his first career start. Former UT quarterback Erik Ainge led the Vols to a win over then-No. 3 Georgia in his first career road start.

Is it challenging to make a debut against a quality SEC opponent on the road? Yes.

However, it’s more challenging to have a quarterback whose limitations have an offense – and an entire team – hamstrung by his inability to deliver deep passes downfield.

Worley? Dobbs? Ferguson? It’s time for Jones to pick.

image via utsports

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