By Steve Williams
I thought Nathan Peterman was the worst starting quarterback to play for the University of Tennessee since the Vols switched from the old single wing to the T formation in the mid-1960s.
That opinion began soon after Butch Jones started Peterman instead of Justin Worley against Florida at the Swamp in 2013. The Gators made so many mistakes in the early going, you would have thought they were trying to give the game away. But the Peterman-led Tennessee offense couldn’t take advantage of it.
Peterman’s infamous starting debut also ended with torn ligaments in the right thumb of his passing hand, after he banged it on a lineman’s helmet.
One would have thought the Jacksonville native would have played better based on his high school credentials. His 36 touchdown passes as a senior at Bartram Trail ranked second behind Tim Tebow’s 46. He also was rated the No. 10 quarterback prospect by Rivals.
Peterman’s only other start at UT, however, came against Alabama in Knoxville in 2014. After two ineffective series, Jones pulled Peterman and put Joshua Dobbs in the game. Down 20-0 after the first quarter, Dobbs played well enough to at least make the 34-20 loss interesting.
After the game Peterman felt God was telling him it was time to move on.
I didn’t lose a bit of sleep when the news hit that Peterman was leaving. I always thought he had a bad case of the jitters when he played for the Vols. He just never seemed to be able to get comfortable.
A quitter, however, Peterman was not. His below-par play at Tennessee just made him come back even stronger. He landed at Pitt as a graduate transfer with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
The 6-4, 225-pound redshirt junior beat out Chad Voytik, the Panthers’ starting quarterback in 2014, and helped direct Pitt to an 8-4 record and second place in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
If there’s an award for NCAA Comeback Player of the Year, Peterman deserves to be nominated.
I never expected such a turnaround. But good for Nate. And the more I have looked into Pitt’s season with Peterman at the helm, the more I have learned about the former Vol and the outstanding young man and student-athlete that he is.
At UT he was a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll student with a 3.4 grade point average. He earned a degree in communications and now is pursuing his MBA in business.
The son of a minister, Peterman has a strong faith and said one of the hardest parts of moving away from UT was leaving his Bible study group.
Voytik was his host on a recruiting trip. They passed footballs together in the summer and competed on the golf course for fun. They were “close” even though they battled for the starting job.
It didn’t hurt that former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was now Pitt’s OC and helped recruit Peterman. The Panthers also had a new head coach in Pat Narduzzi.
Peterman’s unimpressive on-field resume from Tennessee followed him North and there was even an “uh, oh” response from Narduzzi after he threw an interception in the season opener against Youngstown State.
But the Pitt coach felt Nathan deserved another chance “to show what he’s got.”
Peterman passed for a career-high 148 yards and threw his first college touchdown as Pitt pulled away for 24-7 victory at Akron the following week. He was 12 of 17 after relieving Voytik in the second quarter.
Apparently having the best week of practice, Peterman earned his first start at Pitt against Iowa. He passed for 219 yards and two TDs in a 27-24 loss to the Hawkeyes. He threw two picks in first quarter but connected on fourth-and-15 with 1:28 left in the game that led to a tying TD.
Narduzzi anointed Peterman as the starter for the next game against Virginia Tech. A 17-13 win over the Hokies sparked a four-game win streak that included a 31-28 win at Georgia Tech and elevated Pitt into the Top 25 in the nation. The win spree ended with back-to-back losses to North Carolina (26-19) and Notre Dame (42-30).
Peterman highlights included three touchdown passes in wins over Georgia Tech and Duke (31-13). He tossed four TDs in the second quarter alone against Louisville and the Panthers held off the Cardinals 45-34.
Pitt entered the regular season finale against Miami as one of the ACC’s biggest stories of the year, relying heavily on an offense that takes care of the ball – something Peterman hadn’t been able to do at UT.
Overall, Peterman will head into a bowl game with solid stats. He has a 141.1 efficiency rating, completing 180 of 293 pass attempts (61.4 percent) for 2,150 yards, with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also has 207 net rushing yards.
After being error-prone in his limited playing time at Tennessee, Peterman has excelled in that department at Pitt.
Peyton Manning is ranked by many as UT’s best starting quarterback of all time and often has been called a Living Legend.
Peterman is on the other end of the UT quarterback rankings, but could be called a Living Lesson. He’s shown that a college football career can be turned around.