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Pitt Football

Assessing Tennessee’s Quarterbacks: Pat Narduzzi Complimentary of Hendon Hooker

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Hendon Hooker is very familiar with Pitt these days, even though he’ll be the first SEC starting quarterback ever hosted at Acrisure Stadium against Pitt.

Hooker, a dark horse Heisman candidate with Tennessee, spent three seasons at Virginia Tech — two as the starting quarterback. He left following the 2020 season and wound up in Knoxville.

He actually got his first shot against Pitt last season, falling just short in a 41-34 loss after replacing Joe Milton, but it was the beginning of his breakout season. He threw for 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns and added 616 yards and five touchdowns on the ground as one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks.

Hooker threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns — on 15-of-21 passing attempts — and added 49 yards on the ground in his season debut against Pitt. And he only gotten better, especially since his time at Virginia Tech to begin his career.

“He’s got a great arm,” Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “He’s smart. Like I said, you look at where he is right now compared to where he was two years ago when he was at Virginia Tech, two totally different guys. That’s obviously a tribute — that’s no slam on what Virginia Tech did with him, but he fits into that offense, and his quarterback coach is coaching the heck out of him, and I think he’s really, really sharp.”

Narduzzi feels that Tennessee has two good quarterbacks in Hooker and Milton, lauding Milton as an athletic player with cannon-like arm strength, and he certainly watched Tennessee’s 59-10 drubbing of Ball State. Both Hooker and Milton played well against Ball State, the pair not committing any turnovers in leading the Volunteers to a large win.

The Tennessee offense, which was slowed last season by Pitt’s ability to force turnovers, will be an especially challenging unit for Pitt’s defense. Coming off a lackluster defensive showing against West Virginia on Thursday, a bounce back against an even tougher offense will be a hefty challenge.

“Again, it starts with their offense,” Narduzzi said. “They do certain things. They take advantage of you. They have what we call these ‘max splits,’ and they’re going to spread you out. You’re going to be in man coverage all day, even if you don’t want to be in man coverage. You want to be in cover three? Good luck to you. They’re going to be — their favorite formation is having two detached receivers in the offensive line. The quarterback and running back are going to be in this little area here and then everybody else is going to be lined up way out there, and that’s what they do. They spread you out.”

No matter who is under center for Tennessee, Narduzzi is confident that the Vols’ offense will be in good hands with either Hooker or Milton.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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