In today’s Orange and White game, Tennessee fans finally got a full glimpse at the Vols’ new offense under Josh Heupel.
The offense as a whole was up-tempo, as expected. But no position has been under as much of a microscope as Tennessee’s quarterbacks.
And the group showed why on Saturday.
Harrison Bailey put up a strong performance, the climax of which was a 73-yard touchdown pass to walk-on Jack Jancek during a free play. He was 12-of-15 for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Brian Maurer, meanwhile, flashed some positive plays, and he delivered a perfect toss on one throw while rolling right out of the pocket. The Florida native finished 9-of-15 for 171 yards and a touchdown.
Hendon Hooker showed his mobility with an easy scramble into the checkerboards, and he delivered the winning touchdown on a pass to Cedric Tillman in the back of the end zone. But he also tossed a pick-six that Warren Burrell took the other way for a score. Altogether, the Virginia Tech transfer finished 10-of-14 for 111 yards and a touchdown.
In total, the group finished with 368 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 42-37 win for the Orange team.
As mentioned, Bailey appeared the front runner. After the final whistle, though, Heupel said the job is still anyone’s to win.
“It’s wide open,” Heupel said. “I’ve been through enough quarterback battles as a player or as a coach to know that there’s so much time as you leave spring ball. We’ve had 15 practices. We’re going to have a lot more than that when we get to training camp. They get a chance to sit back now and kind of re-digest everything that’s gone on this spring. Get a chance to go through some installs this summer. They get a chance to coach it, own it a little bit on their own.”
Heupel also mentioned what each gunslinger has to glean after today’s spring game.
“They get a chance to learn from the mistakes and they have an opportunity to come back a much better and different football player by the time that they get to training camp, and you’ve got to allow your players to grow through this offseason,” he said. “I think that’s important at the quarterback position, but it’s true everywhere, and you’ve got to judge players for who they are today, not where they were yesterday. You’ve got to give kids an opportunity to make that movement during the June and July process.”
The Vols’ coach added that it would be tough for him to judge individual performances from the spring game, given the way the day unfolded. The first two quarters were run normally, while the second half featured a running clock.
“Tough to do that individually here, just with the rotation of how the game unfolded,” Heupel added. “To piece together all that, I think, would be unfair from my recollection of what they actually accomplished during the course of the game and each drive."
But he reiterated their progression as a group through the spring, with emphasis on their composure and mindset.
“I thought as a total group effort, they have come a long ways in the last 14 days leading up today,” Heupel said. “I think if you break spring ball up into thirds, every five practices, man, you’ve seen exponential growth from all them in their command of what we’re doing, the ability to recognize signals, get lined up, get their eyes and feet in the right place, be accurate with the football. I think the last three or four practices have been all of their best practices.”
“I thought they played really efficient today,” Heupel concluded. “There were a couple of times they need to get rid of the football maybe a little bit quicker. But proud of what each of them have done this spring and thought they operated really well today. They all had great composure out there.”