KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Justin Worley loves playing with Tennessee's talented group of newcomers. They helped Worley to a successful return from thumb surgery on Sunday night.
Worley threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and the Volunteers beat Utah State 38-7 in a game matching two quarterbacks returning from injuries.
Worley completed his first 13 passes of the second half in his first appearance since missing Tennessee's final four games last season. He was 27 of 38 overall, connecting with 10 different receivers.
He said he benefited from having more playmakers around him, thanks in part to the arrival of a heralded recruiting class.
"I didn't have the nerves I've had in the past," Worley said. "It goes back to my confidence level, the confidence I have in these guys, the confidence I have in the offensive scheme and everything. This being the second year (as a starter), my confidence is a lot higher. I tried to go out there and play like that."
Worley threw touchdown passes to Brendan Downs, Von Pearson and Jalen Hurd in front of a sellout crowd of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium. His 27 completions were a career high.
"He played winning football at the quarterback position," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "He managed the offense."
Worley outperformed Chuckie Keeton, who was playing for the first time since tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee last October. Keeton went 18 of 35 for 144 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown pass. He also ran for 12 yards on eight carries.
Tennessee is relying heavily on newcomers as it attempts to end a string of four straight losing seasons, and they wasted no time making an impact. By the midway point of the first quarter, Tennessee already had played 16 true freshmen, the most ever used by the Vols in a season opener. They ended up using 21 true freshmen.
Two of Worley's TD passes went to newcomers; Hurd is a freshman and Pearson a junior-college transfer. Todd Kelly Jr., another freshman, had a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown.
"You can't really focus on one guy," Worley said. "There are several guys we can attack you with."
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