Tennessee Stat Book
Derek Dooley ran out of ways to say it.
Outside of saying the offense stinks, the Tennessee coach was left repeating himself about the unit's myriad woes after the Vols' fourth consecutive loss and fourth consecutive season-low point output.
There's still one step left between the Vols' three-point effort in the 14-3 loss to No. 14 South Carolina and rock bottom, but Saturday's 186-yard, mistake-laden performance certainly felt that way.
"We're a different football team right now on offense," Dooley said. "Very different."
And now, perhaps, the Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC) could have a different starting quarterback than the previous week for the fourth time in the last five games when they take on Middle Tennessee State in a potential pick-me-up homecoming at Neyland Stadium.
True freshman Justin Worley, who was not only making his first career start Saturday, but had yet to attempt a pass at the collegiate level before his wayward first toss in the first quarter, was benched in the fourth quarter after his second costly interception. Senior Matt Simms, who lost his job after struggling against No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, wasn't much better, but finished the game.
Dooley declined to discuss the competition at quarterback during his post-game press conference. He was too busy discussing all that could have been and all that went wrong after the Vols' fifth straight SEC loss.
"Gosh, guys, we just got to play better on offense," Dooley said. "We had a lot of opportunities.
Only one golden opportunity — a fumble recovered inside the red zone during the first quarter — was capitalized upon, and that only resulted in a 22-yard Michael Palardy field goal.
Worley, who was on pace to redshirt the season until Tyler Bray broke his thumb, was understandably jumpy during his first few series. Wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett said players were joking that he might have called the wrong play on the Vols' first drive.
But once he completed his first career pass — a 7-yard pass to Da'Rick Rogers — Worley settled down. He completed two long passes to Arnett during the second quarter and had the Vols in South Carolina territory on what turned out to be a game-changing drive. On third-and-1, Worley faked a hand off to Tauren Poole and threw his best pass of the night, hitting Rogers with a 44-yard pass in stride just outside the end zone.
Rogers dropped it.
"That was a touchdown," Dooley said.
Two potential touchdown opportunities in the second half were swiftly ruined by the first two interceptions of Worley's career.
The first came two plays after a long-awaited big play from the Vols' defense, a 54-yard interception return by Prentiss Waggner, when Worley tried to force a pass into double coverage. His second, which immediately succeeded a recovered fumble inside Gamecocks territory early in the fourth quarter, prompted Dooley's decision to go back to Simms.
"He did some good things and he struggled at some things, which I expected it to happen," Dooley said of Worley. "Man, the guy, it's his first time. He just hasn't had the work. He's been a three, that's what we forget. For eight months, he's been a three. For two weeks he was a two.
"It's just tough, it's tough. I don't know what else to say. He's going to be fine. He'll learn from it, be all right and get better. He did some good things."
Worley's struggles went beyond the interceptions and wayward throws that resulted in his 10-of-26 for 105 yards performance. Players commended Worley's command of the huddle but Dooley said there were administration problems throughout the game, which resulted in a number of early timeouts.
Dooley said it was a "disaster" when Worley worked on his hard count during Friday's walk-through.
"It's hard to know what's getting said," Dooley said. "It's not all getting said, we're in there a long time and you're going 'what's going on?'"
What's going on with the Vols' quarterback situation will likely be determined in the days to come. What's already happened, though, has Dooley and the Vols looking for even more answers after yet another offensively challenged performance.
"It always gets a little frustrating at times, but that's what we have coaches for to push us on and push us forward," tight end Mychal Rivera said. "That's what we need to do for the rest of the season, just look forward and not look back and just know that we have stuff to continue to play for."