How Butch Jones Is Getting Wiser in Season 2 at Tennessee

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How Butch Jones Is Getting Wiser in Season 2 at Tennessee
USA Today

Part of growing up is learning from your mistakes, and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has learned from his mistakes.

Jones announced that senior Justin Worley will be his starting quarterback on Thursday, after the Rock Hill, S.C.-native beat out sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman.

Worley completed 55.6 percent of his passes last season (109-for-196) for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, before a hand injury forced him to miss the final month of the season. He struggled with consistency downfield early last season, but nearly led the Vols to an upset of Georgia and then finished off an upset of South Carolina last year before getting hurt.

There's always a learning curve for people unaccustomed to life in the SEC, and that goes for coaches as well as players.

Jones found that out the hard way in his first season as Tennessee's head coach in 2013, when his Vols finished 5-7 and missed the postseason for the third straight year. 

At SEC Media Days in July in Hoover, Alabama, Jones said that his first trip through the conference was about what he expected. He went on to elaborate:

"The competitive balance and makeup of this league is second to none," Jones said. "The ability to go on the road, every institution has tremendous passion, loyal fanbases. So the ability to have to go on the road and play in those hostile environments, it takes a mentally tough football team in how you train, the standard and expectation that goes into winning on the road."

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It really wasn't what he expected, though. 

Jones waited until game week of last season's opener vs. Austin Peay to name Worley the starter. He threw five touchdowns and only one pick through his first three games of the season, but he was inconsistent downfield and benched before the Vols went on the road to face the stingy Florida Gators defense.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Tennessee QB Justin Worley

Pulling your quarterback for marginal ineffectiveness the week of a road game in one of the most hostile environments in the nation against one of the best defenses in the SEC isn't something seasoned SEC coaches do.

Not surprisingly, his replacement—Peterman—struggled, got injured and was replaced by Worley, who didn't fare much better.

The quarterback position in Knoxville was unstable from the jump, and in his second season on Rocky Top, Jones appears to have learned from his biggest mistake of last season by naming Worley the starter with two weeks and change to go before the season-opener.

That's great news for the Vols, because as was the case last year when they went on the road to Oregon and Florida before the end of September, the 2014 slate is front-loaded with some tough matchups.

Wade Payne/Associated Press
Tennessee QB Justin Worley

Utah State at home is no slouch in the opener, and Arkansas State in Neyland is at worst competitive and at best "tricky." After that, the Vols have road trips to No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 12 Georgia before September ends.

The last thing Tennessee needs this season is more instability at the quarterback position. Worley will now have full first-team reps and the confidence of the coaching staff for a significant period of time during fall camp, which is important because the start of Tennessee's season is no joke.

Does that mean that the eventual winner will shine?

Not necessarily. 

Jones was critical of all of his quarterbacks just last week, but he was more complimentary following Tuesday's practice.

He made the decision at the proper time, which indicates Jones learned from his Year 1 mistakes.

The last thing Tennessee needs is to head into the season with a quarterback looking over his back, which was the case last season with Worley.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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