A time is coming this season when Tennessee coach Butch Jones will have to replace Justin Worley as the Vols' starting quarterback.
That time should not be this weekend against Florida.
It may come on Sept. 28 when the Vols head home to face South Alabama. It may be during the teeth of a particularly vicious October schedule. Or it may even be after Worley fails once again to assert himself in Gainesville. But it should only happen when it must.
With these words Monday, Jones officially re-opened his quarterback battle:
Whatever quarterback has the best week of practice is going to be the starter for Tennessee when we play Florida. If that means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback. We'll have more quarterback run in our package this week. We just need to find ways to generate big, explosive plays, and if that's Josh Dobbs running the read option or Riley Ferguson, that's what we'll do to create big plays. That's going to be our focus and preparation this week.
Worley is not the right answer long-term, but he is the best answer right now with the Vols heading for a hostile environment. Play one of the freshmen through the course of the game if necessary, but a better opportunity to start Ferguson, Dobbs or redshirt Nathan Peterman comes later.
Not in "The Swamp."
None of those players has ever taken meaningful snaps. Getting their first in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium carries with it the risk of shattering psyches against the best secondary UT will face.
Changing signal-callers on the road could lead to more mistakes, a risk Jones simply can't take with such a small margin for error. For all of Worley's deficiencies, he has gotten rid of the ball and taken care of the ball (one turnover) all season. That can't be overlooked.
Who should be Tennessee's starting quarterback against the Gators on Saturday?
Worley's unforced errors—poor timing and accuracy as well as struggles running the read-option—are impossible to ignore. But he has dealt with an inexperienced receiving corps, and his top three slot receivers were injured against Oregon. Those aren't excuses; they're facts.
“It's really hard to judge the quarterback just because all the moving parts and pieces, the different dynamics that we're going through," Jones said.
UT doesn't need to help Jeff Driskel and the sputtering Gators offense by giving it a short field after turnovers.
None of that changes the issues Worley has had, problems that will put him on the bench if they continue. He certainly hasn't been dynamic enough in an offense that needs a difference-maker.
It's been challenging at the quarterback position just because we haven't had any big, splash plays. I'd like to see Justin settle in a little bit more and a little more aggressive ... We need him to attack more.
Though Jones alluded several times Monday to his offense being better-suited for a quarterback who can move the pocket, run the read-option and still create positive passing plays, Florida isn't the place to cut teeth—especially considering there's a stable of unknowns behind Worley.
In mop-up duty, Peterman has shown flashes of arm strength, but he also has a tendency to stare down receivers and hold the ball too long. Neither Ferguson nor Dobbs has ever played beyond high school.
Tennessee is approaching a point where it will have to choose ability over experience. Worley is simply not good enough to hold off the talented freshmen behind him once they grasp the offense. Ferguson, in particular, appears nearly ready to get a long look when Worley finally falters.
The Vols may not win any meaningful SEC games with Worley at the helm, but they'll see if that's the case pretty quickly on Saturday. If he struggles, there will be plenty more opportunities for Jones to choose talent over tenure.
Florida isn't the place.
All quotes were transcribed from videos posted on UTSports.com.