As Georgia expanded its lead in the Bulldogs’ 38-10 victory at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the opportunity to play freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava presented itself. However, the Vols stuck with super senior quarterback Joe Milton III for the entirety of the game.
Why did Josh Heupel and his staff decide to ride it out with Milton instead of getting its five-star freshman some experience?
“At this point, just because there’s only one regular season, you know, I mean there’s a lot of variables that are taking place outside on that field today,” Heupel said. “And what type of situation you want to put him in.”
Heupel seems to be referencing a number of factors. The “type of situation you want to put him in” is likely about giving Iamaleava action against Georgia. The Bulldogs boast one of the nation’s best defenses and facing them would certainly be a daunting task for a freshman quarterback.
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But Heupel’s line about “a lot of variables that are taking place” outside of football is the more important line.
College players can play four regular season games and a bowl game while still redshirting a season. Iamaleava has played in three games to this point in the season: Virginia, UTSA and UConn.
The ability to play the bowl game on top of four regular season games was a new rule last season that was originally in place for just that year. But a Tennessee spokesperson confirmed on Saturday that the rule is now permenant.
By not playing Iamaleava against Georgia, the Vols have secured a redshirt for their five-star quarterback this season. Tennessee can play its freshman quarterback in next week’s regular season finale against Vanderbilt and in the bowl game without jeopardizing his redshirt.
Heupel and Tennessee’s coaches have stood by veteran quarterback Joe Milton III this season despite lackluster play. The Vols’ starting quarterback struggled against top-ranked Georgia on Saturday afternoon, completing 17-of-30 passes for 147 yards against the Bulldogs.