Tennessee freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava played more in the Vols’ 59-3 victory over UConn Saturday afternoon than he has all season. Iamaleava played two second half drives, leading the Vols down the field for a touchdown in his first drive before the second drive stalled out right across midfield.
Iamaleava completed five-of-nine pass attempts for 86 yards and his first career touchdown while adding 25 yards on the ground.
“Nico went out, I thought he handled all parts of the game really well for the most part,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “There’s a couple of learning opportunities for him. I thought he was timely using his feet, accurate with the football for the most part. There’s a couple things that he would want back, really solid performance from him.”
Iamaleava was most impressive making things happen when the called play broke down. Tennessee was three-of-four on third down with Iamaleava behind center. He scrambled for 25 yards on third-and-five, scrambled and found McCallan Castles for 14 yards on third-and-six and evaded pressure by rolling right and firing a bullet to Kaleb Webb on the sideline to move the sticks on third-and-nine the following drive.
The only time Tennessee didn’t convert a third down with Iamaleava in the game? A Khalifa Keith run that gained one yard on third-and-seven.
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So what did Heupel want to see cleaned up from his backup quarterback?
“There’s a couple things in communication and then fundamentally, just where his body was at on one of the throws,” Heupel said. “But man, I thought he did a really good job.”
Heupel said earlier in the season that Tennessee wasn’t going to redshirt the five-star freshman quarterback. NCAA rules allow for players to participate in four games while still redshirting a season. Iamaleava has now played in three games this season.
With three regular season games and a bowl game left, could Tennessee change its mind and redshirt Iamaleava?
“Just uniquely how the season’s unfolded so we’ll see what, what comes, you know what I mean? Every weekend’s an adventure,” Heupel said.
It seems likely that Tennessee will continue to handle its quarterbacks the way they best see fit for the remainder of this season. If that allows Iamaleava to redshirt, great. If not, no big deal.
Tennessee football returns to the field next week where they’ll face off against No. 12 Missouri in Columbia.