Tennessee head football coach Josh Heupel met with members of the local media Monday afternoon to discuss the team’s loss to Pitt and preview Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee Tech.
There are two major takeaways from what Heupel had to say.
No update on the quarterbacks
The biggest storyline around this Vols’ team since the spring has centered around the quarterbacks, and for at least a few more days, it will remain the biggest question. It started as a four-man race, until Brian Maurer transferred and it became three-man race, and then Joe Milton III was named the starter ahead of the season opener.
But Milton has underwhelmed in two games as the Vols’ starting signal caller, only consistent at overthrowing his wide receivers. It was almost a breath of fresh air for the Vols when Milton departed the loss to Pitt with a leg injury and Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker entered the game. Hooker led the Vols on three touchdown drives but also threw a late interception that sealed Pitt’s victory.
Heupel did not give an update Monday on the specifics of Milton’s injury, but he did expect one to come later in the week. Even with Milton’s status in the air, Heupel would not name one starter over the other.
“I don’t consider it adversity,” Heupel said on the quarterback uncertainties. “I think watching the video, Joe (Milton) knows this too, there’s opportunities to make some plays in the pass game. Don’t know where he’s at health wise at this moment. Right now, as we go forward, the guys that are healthy will be ready to go compete and play. We’ll find out where Joe (Milton) is here in the middle of the week.”
Heupel was asked directly if Milton would start over Hooker should he be cleared for Saturday, but he gave an indirect answer.
“We’ll find out where he’s at during the course of the week. There’s multiple factors that play into who’s the guy that’s going to be taking snaps,” Heupel said.
For what it’s worth, Milton is still listed as the Vols No. 1 quarterback on their week three depth chart.
Young available to make UT debut
Heupel did have some good news to report among player availabilities – junior edge rusher Byron Young is eligible to make his Tennessee debut Saturday against Tennessee Tech. Young had sat out the first two games of the season because of NCAA ineligibility issues.
Young attended Gulf Coast Prep Sports Academy (GCPSA) in Alabama after graduating from Carver Bay High School in 2017. He played football at GCPSA in September 2017, but the school folded in the fall of 2018, leading to Young’s eligibility issues.
Young walked on at Georgia Military College, where he became the No. 1 weakside defensive end and the No. 11 overall junior college player by 247sports.com. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound edge rusher committed to Tennessee on National Signing Day over offers from multiple Southeastern Conference (SEC) schools.
“Byron will be able to play this week,” Heupel said. “It was a two-week, I guess, being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. He’s a guy that’s grown a bunch in our program. He’s added 25, 30 pounds to his frame from when I first arrived here in late January, early February with our strength staff.”
Young’s return is welcome news for the Vols who though weeks have endured a myriad of injuries to six key contributors, including Milton, running back Jabari Small (unspecified injury), wide receiver Jalin Hyatt (unspecified injury), center Cooper Mays (ankle), running back Tiyon Evans (unspecified) and fellow defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus (unspecified).
Young joins Tyler Baron, Ja’Quain Blakely, Elijah Simmons and Matthew Butler on a Tennessee defensive front that has recorded just 2.0 sacks thus far.
“Through training camp, through spring ball, (Young’s) been really good as a pass rusher off the edge,” Heupel said. “I think he’s going to add some things we need on the other side of the football.”