Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman shared a table inside Neyland Stadium’s Stokely Family Media Center on Saturday afternoon.
The two quarterbacks sat side by side. In the dust of Tennessee’s 2013 Orange and White Game, they volleyed answers back and forth. There was no winning or losing to discuss, though the Vols’ defense, wearing orange, beat the white-clad offense, 95-71, thanks to the afternoon’s video game scoring format.
Instead, the conversation pulled back its focus to a bigger picture.
Questions were reserved for where things stand and what sits ahead. At some point, Worley and Peterman won’t be side by side. At some point, one likely will be named the Vols’ starter by coach Butch Jones, replacing the NFL-bound Tyler Bray. The other will be handed a headset.
Orange versus white?
More like Worley versus Peterman.
Quarterback battles are the made-for-reality-TV drama of football, at any level. Both Worley and Peterman understand as much, but have handled such theater with tact. Saturday was no different. Each downplayed a quarterback duel that is plain to see.
“It wasn’t about the competition today,” said Worley, a junior who has an edge in the battle thanks to nine career games played including three starts as a freshman. “It was about going out and performing in front of the fans and just showing a little glimpse of what this team is going to be for the next year.”
The (announced) 61,076 sets of eyeballs inside Neyland might disagree. Those in attendance, like any eager fanbase, didn’t want a glimpse. They wanted a clear look at who is poised to be Tennessee’s leading man. That view never came. Saturday offered little separation.
Worley threw for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception on 8-of-18 passing. The one touchdown came on a flare pass to wideout Cody Blanc, who turned a simple dump and catch into a 58-yard jaunt to the end zone.
Peterman completed nine of 23 passes for 98 yards. No touchdowns. No picks.
In fairness, both quarterbacks fed off a light cupboard of wide receivers. Injuries have cleared space on the shelves. Jacob Carter, Jason Croom and Paul Harris were all out of action, while Blanc and Vincent Dallas have only recently returned. Plus, there was certainly no Justin Hunter and/or Cordarrelle Patterson.
Ten different Vols caught a pass, but none snagged more than three. Alden Hill, a redshirt freshman running back, and Devrin Young, a running back turned wideout, led the way with three apiece.
Neither quarterback complained about a lack of weaponry, however.
“We’re just out there playing football,” Peterman said. “I had a pretty good time out there to be honest. I was just really happy.”
But now spring will go and summer will come and the next stage of UT’s quarterback battle will arise. Worley and Peterman will go side by side into the heat of June and July. Eventually they’ll be joined by incoming freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson, a duo rated as one of the best cumulative quarterback classes in the country.
In Jones’ words, the competition remains “wide open.” That’s why he’s asking for this in the offseason: “Everything. Everything needs to be worked on. Taking ownership in our receivers, tight ends, running backs and developing that trust and timing. Overall leadership. Overall command presence. Being the alpha male and understanding that.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.