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Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava’s X-factor yet to be on display for Vols

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Tennessee coach Josh Heupel doesn’t like to tip his hand. He doesn’t like you to know if he’s holding a surefire winner or something that needs to be bluffed out of. 

In fact, Heupel has privately bragged that he can best provide nothing during a press conference. Heupel’s job isn’t to be quotable. It’s to win.

Heupel may not be from the deep south, but he’s got some “Aw, shucks,” in him when a podium enters the conversation. He has been known to take pride in poor mouthing. However, with the most highly anticipated player of his coaching career about to suit up for him, he can’t control himself.

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When asked about quarterback Nico Iamalaeva and the redshirt freshman’s strengths, Heupel flat out said, “First of all, he’s accurate down the field. He’s got great vision. He understands windows and timing, but his ability to extend and make plays off schedule. Those are all things that, you know, allow us to continue to play when the play breaks down. And he’s got a unique athletic trait and skill set to go do that.”

Finally, Heupel is forthright when it comes to Iamaleava. No, poor mouthing here. He knows he has something special. That was on display when Iamaleava lit up Iowa in the Citrus Bowl, completing 12-of-19 passes for 151 yards and rushing for three touchdowns as the Vols dismantled the Hawkeyes 35-0. We all saw that performance, including oddsmakers that have Iamaleava as approximately a 20-to-one shot to win the Heisman Trophy. Those aren’t bad odds, especially for a first-year, full-time starting quarterback with a young team still jelling around him. Helping the Vols mature has been a key for Iamaleava’s development as well.

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There’s a lot of things that I think he learned during the course of the game,” Heupel said. “It’s been a big part of his urgency this offseason. He’s handled himself with great maturity and competing every day. As much as anything (he) might take away from it is from practice to the game. 

“It really slowed down for him. I thought he was playing within himself. The communication situational football. Just thought he had great command and presence out there.”

And of Tennessee’s future.

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