Tennessee coach Derek Dooley knows he wants Worley to start at quarterback when the Volunteers host South Carolina on Saturday. He just doesn't have much of an idea how the true freshman is going to do against the 14th-ranked Gamecocks.
Dooley said Monday he would start Worley over senior Matt Simms in an effort to "win some football games." The Vols (3-4, 0-4) are trying to stop a three-game losing skid and still are looking for their first Southeastern Conference victory of the season against South Carolina (6-1, 4-1), which boasts the nation's top passing defense.
"We are not throwing and catching the way we need to, and we're not calling the game the way we want to," Dooley said. "We just need to make this move. It's not something that is done on a whim. We have a lot of data to make a switch. We don't have a lot of data on Justin."
Tyler Bray had been Tennessee's starting quarterback since taking over for Simms late in the Vols' loss to South Carolina last season. Simms returned when Bray broke the thumb on his throwing hand in the second half of an Oct. 8 loss to Georgia.
Though he led the Vols on their lone touchdown drive against the Bulldogs, Simms was a combined 14 of 37 for 186 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions in starts against No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama.
Dooley cautioned that Worley taking over the offense will not be the same as Bray taking over midway through his own freshman season. Bray had played mop-up duty in several games and had received plenty of attention in practice from coaches as the backup quarterback.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Worley was the third-string guy for five games, and his first in-game appearance came late in Tennessee's 37-6 loss at Alabama on Saturday after Simms threw an interception.
Worley's first drive lasted one play, a handoff to running back Marlin Lane, who fumbled the ball away to the Crimson Tide. His second drive, the Vols' last of the game, started at the Tennessee 1 and picked up seven yards on four straight runs.
"We had a lot more data on Tyler going into last season when I made the move than I do right now on Justin," Dooley said. "This one is a little different and I don't know what it is going to look like on Saturday. I am doing it with a little less expectation of what I'll see is how I will say it. Last year. I felt like I knew what I was going to see. This year, I am not so sure, but I just feel like it's the right thing to do."
The Gamecocks are allowing opponents an average 133.7 yards passing this season and have intercepted 14 passes and recorded 15 sacks.
In Bray's first four starts, Tennessee averaged 336.5 yards passing and had 14 total passing touchdowns, though two games came against nonconference opponents Montana and Buffalo. The Vols averaged 95.5 yards passing in Simms' two starts against the top defense and third-best defense in the nation against Alabama and LSU, respectively.
"I think it was just a combination of everything," tight end Mychal Rivera said. "We were playing the best team in the country, (Simms) might have been struggling a little bit personally and things just didn't really click those two games."
Though Worley has little college experience, the Rock Hill, native put up strong numbers as Gatorade's national football player of the year for 2010. As a senior, he passed for 5,315 yards and a state-record 64 touchdowns while leading Northwestern High School to an undefeated season and state championship.
''The last couple of weeks, we have pushed him pretty hard and he has responded well," Dooley said. He has a lot of good qualities, and you will see them on Saturday."
Worley and current Gamecock defensive lineman Gerald Dixon Jr. were part of the Northwestern team that won a state championship in 2010 but lost in the finals in 2009 to Bruce Ellington and Berkeley High.
Dooley defended his decision to announce the move so early in the week, saying USC assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson "will be licking his chops either way."