Josh Heupel met with the media Thursday for the last time before his team heads to Gainesville for its SEC and road opener.
Tennessee’s quarterback situation is unstable heading into the rivalry game as Joe Milton has missed the last six quarters of play after suffering an injury in the second quarter against Pitt.
Heupel updated Milton’s situation Thursday, saying the Michigan transfer has returned to the practice field. However, the 6-foot-5 quarterback’s status remains unclear.
“Don’t have an update on the quarterback status right now,” Heupel said. “Joe’s gotten some work over the course of the week. We’ll find out more tomorrow with him.”
Hendon Hooker has played the last six quarters in Milton’s absence. The Virginia Tech quarterback has been dynamic with his legs and inconsistent in the passing game. Still, Hooker’s five touchdown passes are just one less than Jarrett Guarantano recorded all of last season.
While Heupel didn’t provide clarity on who would start at quarterback for Tennessee Saturday, he did say that the Vols want to stick to just one quarterback in the game unless someone gets injured.
“No. Right now we’re not leaning that way,” Heupel said on whether he was considering playing two quarterbacks.
That’s a very noteworthy anecdote from Heupel and one that is interesting both for this week and upcoming weeks.
While Milton was Tennessee’s starting quarterback to start the season, Hooker has mildly outperformed him up to this point in the season.
Hooker has completed 33-of-47 passes for 392 yards, five touchdowns and one interception while adding 113 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries.
Milton is 18-of-35 passing this season with 189 yards and one touchdown. The big armed quarterback has added 98 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
The two quarterbacks have been comparable on the field this season, but Milton has the arm strength to push the ball vertically down the field the way that Heupel likes his quarterbacks too. Milton has struggled to complete those passes but his arm strength and willingness to throw it down the field is greater than Hooker’s.
Earlier this week, the media asked Heupel if Milton was his starting quarterback if healthy and the first year head coach declined to give a firm answer.
Whoever starts for the Vols Saturday night is walking into a daunting challenge as Tennessee looks to end a four-game losing streak as three touchdown underdogs.
The Vols and Gators will kick off from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night. ESPN will broadcast the game.