It takes a special plan to prepare for a special opposing quarterback such as Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton.
So the Vols are getting creative this week as the dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate is set to visit Knoxville on Sunday night.
Walk-on quarterback Mike Wegzyn was wearing the blue No. 16 jersey to officially replicate Keeton on the scout team during Wednesday’s practice, but since no single player can fully represent Keeton’s complete skill set, coach Butch Jones is letting different players line up at quarterback to take a shot at emulating Utah State’s 6-2, 200-pound signal caller.
“It will be a mix of all of our quarterbacks, it will be Joshua Dobbs at times, you may even see (defensive back) Evan Berry back there, you may even see (receiver) Alton Howard,” Jones said.
“The great thing is we have a Joshua Dobbs package with a lot of things that they do. We have an Alton Howard package as well. So again, there will be some carry over where we are not inventing anything new. There will still be a learning curve because we have that stuff in our offense. We will be able to balance that as we go throughout the course of the week.”
Berry, a quarterback for his Creekside (Ga.) High School team did get a shot at simulating Keeton on Wednesday.
“For our scout team period, we put Evan Berry back there to run around so we could chase him a little bit because he’s very fast – it gave us a good look,” said safety Brian Randolph. “He pretty much ran most of the time, but we put [Joshua] Dobbs in there to throw a little bit too.”
“It’s hard to impersonate him, but Evan’s done a great job,” Jones added.
Tennessee’s defense hopes it’s better equipped to slow down a dual-threat quarterback such as Keeton this season after struggling in that area in 2013. Several QBs ran wild in contests last season against the Vols.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall went for 214 yards on the ground. Missouri’s Maty Mauk had 114. Florida’s Tyler Murphy had 84 and three more ran for at least 40 yards on them. Last year’s defensive front was known more for its size and power than athleticism. Jordan Williams, a converted defensive end now playing d-tackle, thinks speed will help solve the running QB problem in 2014.
“We have a lot of speed on the D-line,” said Williams, who also noted that he sees some comparisons between Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Keeton. “Myself, [Danny] O’Brien, we’ve got [Derek] Barnett coming in with fresh legs and we’ve got [Corey] Vereen. We’re going to be on him.”
Of course it’ll take more than stopping Keeton on the ground for Tennessee to be successful on Sunday. While he did run for 619 yards in his only season as the full-time, healthy starter for the Aggies (2012), he might actually be better at using his feet to create time for him to throw downfield.
His career completion percentage of 66.5 percent, nearly 6000 career passing yards and a 56/13 TD-to-INT ratio are all evidence that he can – and will – burn any team that doesn’t treat him as an elite passer.
“He’s definitely a talented player,” said Randolph. “He can throw, can make good passes across the field – he’s very fast, very athletic of course. He’s just an all-around quarterback.”
It’ll take an all-around great effort to stop him. That starts with a great week of practice and a good look on the scout team. That’s something Jones will continue to try to find ways to give throughout this week.