History of success

A slumping slugger switches to a new bat and starts belting home runs. A frustrated golfer switches to a new putter and starts sinking 30-footers. A struggling tennis player switches to a new racket and finds his stroke.

Something new often provides an emotional lift that can enhance performance. That was the case for Tennessee last November, when Derek Dooley inserted freshman Tyler Bray at quarterback. Vol teammates rallied around the newcomer, who promptly led Tennessee to four victories in a row to close the regular season.

"I think we had a lot of spark from Tyler Bray," junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner recalled this week, "so I think that's what gave us a little boost at the end of last year."

Big Orange fans are hoping the "Out with the old, in with the new" approach works again this year. That's because Dooley will start freshman Justin Worley at quarterback Saturday night against South Carolina. Worley has never thrown a pass in a college game, so he's as new as you can get. Perhaps that newness will provide an emotional lift for a Vol squad that is reeling from back-to-back 31-point losses to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama.

"I'm excited to see," sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith said.

So is Waggner, who noted: "Hopefully, that'll help us. We've got the freshman, Justin Worley, in at quarterback, so hopefully he can give us a spark out there."

Zach Rogers also is eager to see if a change in quarterbacks brings a change in fortunes.

"That's something we're hoping for," the junior receiver said. "We'll see on Saturday. We have all the confidence in the world in Worley, and we're going to be behind him 100 percent."

Although Smith has plenty of confidence in Worley, he makes clear that he never doubted predecessor Matt Simms.

"Matt's a great quarterback; I still have faith in him," Smith said. "And Justin Worley is a great quarterback; he did amazing things in high school and he's done some amazing things since he's been here. He's learned a lot, and I definitely feel like he can help our team."

Whether Dooley's decision to start a freshman at quarterback is a stroke of genius or an act of desperation remains to be seen. Either way, Tennessee has enjoyed remarkable success with rookie quarterbacks the past 20 years. Freshman QBs are 24-5 during that time, including 4-1 in starting debuts.

Check it out:

-- Peyton Manning started for the first time in Game 5 of 1994 against No. 17 Washington State. He led the unranked Vols to a stunning 10-9 victory and wound up 7-1 in eight starts as a freshman.

-- Casey Clausen started for the first time in Game 6 of 2000 against Alabama. He led the unranked Vols to a 20-10 victory and wound up 6-1 in seven starts as a freshman.

-- Brent Schaeffer made his starting debut in the 2004 opener vs. UNLV. He guided the Vols to a 42-17 romp and was 3-0 as a starter when he relinquished the first-team reins to fellow freshman Erik Ainge.

-- Ainge started for the first time in Game 4 of 2004, losing 34-10 to an Auburn team that was headed for a 13-0 season. Ainge then led Tennessee to four consecutive wins before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the first half of a Game 9 loss to Notre Dame.

-- Bray started for the first time in Game 9 of 2010, guiding the Vols to a 50-14 road win at Memphis. He then beat Ole Miss 52-14, Vanderbilt 24-10 and Kentucky 24-14 before suffering a 30-27 two-overtime loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.

Whether Justin Worley can continue Tennessee's string of successful freshman QBs remains to be seen. For what it's worth, Vol teammates seem to like his chances.

"I see a lot of maturity," Waggner said. "He's taking control of the offense a lot better. He seems like he's making all the checks. He's not perfect yet but he's getting better and better each week."

To hear offensive coordinator Jim Chaney talk about his new signal-caller, click play on the video below.


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