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What To Expect From Nico Iamaleava In His First Start? Here’s What History Says

Nico Iamaleava
Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava. Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics.

Well, hello there, old friend.

I’ll get the pleasantries out of the way quickly, but it feels good to be writing an article for Rocky Top Insider again. This is not my return to sports media, however; I just want to scratch that itch to write about Tennessee sports occasionally, and the great team at RTI is kind enough to let me return to my old stomping grounds to do so whenever I have something worth writing about.

For those of you who don’t know, I worked for RTI for five years, serving as managing editor for three of those before stepping away from sports media as my full-time job in 2020. But I like to keep my writing skills from getting rusty, and I’m obviously still a huge Vols and Lady Vols fan (which you know if you follow me on social media still). So you’ll likely see my byline here on RTI from time to time.

But enough of that. Let’s get on to why you clicked on this article.

With Joe Milton forgoing the Citrus Bowl to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft, Tennessee is turning to freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava to make his first start as a Vol when UT takes on No. 17 Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on January 1. From the research I conducted, I believe Nico is the first Tennessee freshman quarterback to make his first career start in a bowl game, which seems like the kind of unique start to his UT career that Iamaleava deserves.

But it goes without saying that expectations for Iamaleava are…well, quite high. Not only was he an elite five-star prospect, but all the rumors about his NIL price tag that brought him to Knoxville generated even more buzz than he would’ve already had regardless.

Because of his immense talent, the immense hype, and the immense speculation, expectations for Iamaleava’s first start are probably a little over-inflated. Especially when you take a look back at what freshmen quarterbacks have done for the Vols in their first career starts.

Dating back over the last 30 seasons, Tennessee has had 17 true or redshirt freshmen start at quarterback. Nico will be the 18th.

From Peyton Manning in 1994 all the way through Harrison Bailey in 2020, I dug into the stats to see how freshmen QBs have done for the Vols in their starting debuts, and the results are quite the mixed bag. For every memorable performance and solid start, there’s a rough outing or downright awful showing.

Here’s a look at how Tennessee’s freshmen quarterbacks have done in their first career starts over the last 30 years.

More From RTI: What Tennessee’s Backfield Will Look Like In Citrus Bowl

Peyton Manning, Oct. 1, 1994 vs. No. 17 Washington State (W, 10-9):
7-of-14, 79 yards

A.J. Suggs, Sep. 16, 2000 vs. No. 6 Florida (L, 27-23):
17-of-29, 140 yards, INT

Casey Clausen, Oct. 21, 2000 vs. Alabama (W, 20-10):
17-of-24, 213 yards, 2 TD

James Banks, Oct. 12, 2002 vs. No. 6 Georgia (L, 18-13):
10-of-15, 168 yards, TD, 14 carries, 35 yards

Brent Schaeffer, Sep. 5, 2004 vs. UNLV (W, 42-17):
7-of-10, 123 yards, TD, 7 carries, 29 yards, TD

Erik Ainge, Oct. 2, 2004 vs. No. 8 Auburn (L, 34-10):
17-of-35, 173 yards, TD, 4 INT

Jonathan Crompton, Nov. 11, 2006 vs. No. 11 Arkansas (L, 31-14):
16-of-34, 174 yards, 2 TD, INT

Nick Stephens, Oct. 4, 2008 vs. Northern Illinois (W, 13-9):
10-of-17, 156 yards, TD

Tyler Bray, Nov. 6, 2010 vs. Memphis (W, 50-14):
19-of-33, 325 yards, 5 TD

Justin Worley, Oct. 29, 2011 vs. No. 14 South Carolina (L, 14-3):
10-of-26, 105 yards, 2 INT

Nathan Peterman, Sep. 21, 2013 vs. No. 19 Florida (L, 31-17):
4-of-11, 5 yards, 2 INT

Josh Dobbs, Nov. 2, 2013 vs. No. 10 Missouri (L 31-3):
26-of-42, 240 yards, 2 INT, 7 carries, 45 yards

Jarrett Guarantano, Oct. 14, 2017 vs. South Carolina (L, 15-9):
11-of-18, 133 yards

Will McBride, Nov. 11, 2017 vs. Missouri (L, 50-17):
16-of-32, 139 yards, TD, 2 INT, 14 carries, 63 yards

Brian Maurer, Oct. 5, 2019 vs. No. 3 Georgia (L, 43-14):
14-of-28, 259 yards, 2 TDs, INT

J.T. Shrout, technically Nov. 2, 2019 vs. UAB (W, 30-7), (Jauan Jennings took 1st snap at QB on Oct. 26, 2019 vs. South Carolina, but Shrout was 1st true QB to take a snap in that game):
3-of-6, 34 yards, 1 carry, 10 yards

Harrison Bailey, Dec. 5, 2020 vs. No. 6 Florida (L, 31-19):
14-of-21, 111 yards, TD

The best: There haven’t been too many great starting debuts for freshmen quarterbacks for Tennessee over the last 30 years, but one stands out among the rest. Tyler Bray’s 300-yard, five touchdown performance against Memphis in his first start was a thing of beauty and saved Tennessee’s 2010 season. Bray went on to start the following three games and helped the Vols win out in the regular season and become bowl eligible. Casey Clausen’s first start against Alabama back in 2000 was also a very solid one, even if that was a bad Bama team at the time.

The worst: As disastrous as Erik Ainge’s first start was against Auburn, he had played quarterback quite a bit already that season and had performed well in the two-QB system the Vols were employing with himself and Brent Schaeffer. To me, that gives the edge to Nathan Peterman’s first career start down in The Swamp against Florida in 2013. Peterman tossed a pick-six along with another interception and only completed four of his 11 passes for a mere five yards. He totaled three turnovers in that start and was replaced by previous starter Justin Worley later in the game.

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One Response

  1. Hopefully he will have an above average start, and game. I expect a positive recap. Excited to see him on the field!!

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