Tennessee Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for Justin Worley in 2014
As the 2014 college football season approaches, Tennessee senior Justin Worley is in position to improve his play across the board and lead the team back to its first bowl game since 2010.
Although he struggled at times during the first few games of the 2013 season, Worley was beginning to come into his own by midseason. The Georgia and South Carolina games proved that while he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, the former South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year performs well under pressure.
Unfortunately, the momentum he was building was lost when he injured his thumb against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the eighth game of the season and was forced to the sidelines for the rest of the year.
His stats through two-thirds of the 2013 season included a 55.6 percent completion rate, 1,239 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
For an SEC quarterback, it's fair to label those numbers as below average. However, Worley didn't have many experienced targets to throw to in 2013—a situation that should be remedied this season.
Although Worley is unlikely to emerge as a top quarterback in the SEC, he will undoubtedly show marked improvement in just about every category as the Volunteers' starting quarterback in 2014.
Here are the over/under stat projections for Worley through Tennessee's gauntlet of a schedule this fall.
Worley didn't have a single go-to target in the end zone last year, and his 10 touchdown passes were spread fairly evenly throughout Tennessee's wide receiver corps.
This year, he'll have one, and that target's name is Marquez North.
North only caught one touchdown pass last season—a memorable toe-dragging grab in the corner of the end zone against the Georgia Bulldogs—but he caught nearly everything that was thrown his way, racking up 500 yards receiving in the process.
Although North won't be the most veteran receiver on the Tennessee roster this year, he's undoubtedly the most talented, and his year of SEC experience and conditioning is going to pay off at the line of scrimmage and in the end zone.
With North as his main target, Worley should be more than capable of averaging close to two touchdowns per game in the upcoming season.
Passing Yards: 2,300
Had he not suffered his thumb injury against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 8, Worley was on pace to throw for around 1,850 yards last season.
In comparison, his predecessor Tyler Bray threw for 3,612 yards in 2012. To be fair, Bray had an all-star cast of wide receiver targets, including Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Rogers and Mychal Rivera.
Worley, on the other hand, had one experienced receiver in Pig Howard and a whole host of freshmen at his disposal.
This season, Worley should have no problem finding open targets and surpassing 2,300 yards passing, as he'll be flanked by veteran receivers like Howard, North and Jason Croom—not to mention talented newcomers Josh Malone and JUCO transfer Von Pearson.
Completion Percentage: 62 percent
Whether it was an issue of timing, nerves or a lack of confidence, Worley had major accuracy issues at times during the 2013 season.
He overthrew wide-open receivers. He threw screen passes into the dirt. He threw arm punts that took ages to fall into the hands of his receivers—or the hands of opposing defensive backs.
But as soon as fans were ready to give up on him, Worley would throw an exceptional pass: a bomb caught in stride by Josh Smith for a touchdown against South Alabama; a perfect back-shoulder throw to Croom against Oregon.
And, of course, a game-saving and ultimately game-winning Hail Mary to North against South Carolina.
Worley has the talent to be an efficient and accurate quarterback. With another spring and fall camp earning first-team reps, any issues with timing should disappear, and while his completion rate won't be stellar, it will be high enough to move the chains and keep defenses honest.
Worley's 2013 interception stat line is marred by one aberration of a game: South Alabama.
After taking care of the ball for most of the season, Worley threw three picks against the Jaguars. Whether it was karmic retribution after the Vols' own turnover bonanza against Western Kentucky earlier in the season or Worley just having an off day, those three picks constituted nearly half of his interceptions for the season.
However, he never turned the ball over against Georgia or South Carolina, which was a big factor in the Vols taking the Bulldogs to overtime on October 5 and toppling the Gamecocks two weeks later.
Provided Worley stays healthy and plays a full season in 2014, his number of picks will likely increase—but not by much.
Tennessee's offensive game plans from head coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian favor low-risk passes, which complement Worley's low-risk passing style.
That type of offensive philosophy doesn't often equate to big plays on the field or big numbers in box scores, but when executed effectively, it wins football games.
Rushing Yards: 125
Tennessee's offense allows the quarterback to keep the ball and run if the defense appears vulnerable.
However, Worley rarely exercised that option last season. In fact, he kept the ball so infrequently that when he did tuck it and run, it almost always took the defense by surprise and led to a sizable gain.
Sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs is a much more natural fit for that aspect of the Tennessee offense, but Worley can still use it to his advantage in 2014 on crucial third-down situations.
While he's certainly not in position to become the next Cam Newton, Worley appeared much more confident keeping the ball during the 2014 Orange and White Game.
Whether his quarterback keepers will play a significant role in the 2014 offense remains to be seen, but Worley can easily break the 100-yard mark on the ground by running just a handful of times per game this season.