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Tennessee Quarterback Nico Iamaleava Finds First SEC Game Experience Against Vanderbilt

Nico Iamaleava
KNOXVILLE, TN – November 04, 2023 – Quarterback Nico Iamaleava #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers after the game between the UConn Huskies and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III turned in one of his best career performances during his final home game in Knoxville this past Saturday against Vanderbilt. Milton’s six total touchdowns and 383 passing yards helped put the game out of reach in the second half and allowed the sixth-year senior to have an early night as he was taken out with the game all but over.

Milton’s strong showing on Saturday paved the way for backup freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava to take the field against the first SEC competition of his career. Iamaleava previously saw in-game action against Virginia, UTSA, and UConn throughout the season.

Saturday’s showing against Vanderbilt was his best performance of the season, though.

Iamaleava went 9-of-12 for 66 yards with his longest completion going 14 yards to tight end Hunter Salmon. The California native also added in 15 yards rushing on two carries, one of which being an impressive scramble downfield when the pocket collapsed and he needed to escape.

Nico Iamaleava Completion Tracker (Vanderbilt)

  • Completion 1: 6-yard pass to Squirrel White
  • Completion 2: 5-yard pass to Kaleb Webb
  • Completion 3: 13-yard pass to Squirrel White
  • Completion 4: 5-yard pass to Squirrel White
  • Completion 5: 4-yard pass to Chas Nimrod
  • Completion 6: 7-yard pass to Hunter Salmon
  • Completion 7: 9-yard pass to Kaleb Webb
  • Completion 8: 3-yard pass to Squirrel White
  • Completion 9: 14-yard pass to Hunter Salmon
More from RTI: PFF Grades: Vanderbilt at Tennessee

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel was pleased with his young quarterback’s performance against SEC competition on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.

“I thought he did a really good job off of our run game, throwing the ball out on the perimeter,” Heupel said after the game.

While Iamaleava’s competition on Saturday wasn’t too daunting as Vanderbilt finished winless in the conference, the future starting Tennessee quarterback showed nice poise in the pocket. Iamaleava was quick with his decision-making, delivered the ball with some zip coming out of the pocket, and was accurate in placing the ball where he wanted it to go.

“Was accurate, decisive when we pushed it down the field,” Heupel continued on to say about Iamaleava. “Just normal drop back, (would) like him to pitch the speed option, you know what I mean? Did a good job stepping through the tackle, but all in all, really good job.”

The speed option that Heupel referenced came during Iamaleava’s second and final drive on the field during the fourth quarter. The Vols’ offense was facing a 3rd and 3, and while Iamaleava was able to cut upfield and get the first down, the speed option was open for the pitch. No harm, no foul, and a good learning lesson for the young, talented quarterback.

Nico Iamaleava finished his freshman regular season going 16-of-26 for 163 yards and one touchdown pass. Iamaleava also added in five carries for 44 yards on the ground.

While he still could add to his overall season totals during the bowl game, Iamaleava’s quick showings on the field in garbage time this season have essentially confirmed the excitement around the young quarterback throughout the season from the coaching staff and players.

It’s still too early to say what his career will look like by the time it’s done, but the freshman quarterback certainly showed some traits throughout the season that look like they can be expanded upon by Josh Heupel and his staff as his development into next season continues.

The future of the quarterback position is bright in Knoxville.

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One Response

  1. You can’t be serious, claiming that that’s experience against an SEC foe when you are playing in Vanderbilt!

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