Inconsistent quarterback play plagued Tennessee on Saturday when they took on a winless UMass team. And the stats don’t even tell the whole story.
Quinten Dormady wasn’t as good as his stats showed. And Jarrett Guarantano wasn’t as bad as his numbers may suggest.
But neither guy had great blocking in front of him, and neither played a solid game by any stretch of the imagination.
Starting center Jashon Robertson missed the game with an undisclosed injury. And it showed.
“Jashon being out there, his presence would’ve been felt a lot more,” John Kelly said after the Vols’ ugly 17-13 victory over UMass. “We just went with who we had out there.
“It’s time for everybody to get better.”
Butch Jones said he was looking for a change when he called on Guarantano in the third quarter. He wanted the redshirt freshman to provide a spark to an offense that had stalled out in the second half.
“We were looking for a spark and some energy,” Jones stated. “I’ll know more when I watch the video…we had way too many negative yardage football plays. We knew we had to beat man coverage. Not one play was the determining factor to put Jarrett in the game; it was a combination of things.”
Dormady played well when he was throwing over the middle. He completed several passes to sophomore Brandon Johnson, especially on slant passes. But Johnson gained most of Dormady’s passing yards with yards after the catch, not on the passes themselves.
Butch Jones has seen major improvement in practice from the Florida native at receiver.
“Brandon is an individual that has really, been consistent,” Jones said. “Every day in practice and at meetings. And he continues to get better and better.”
Over the middle, Dormady only had one ball hit the ground.
But unfortunately for Dormady, that’s about all that went right for him. The Vols’ perimeter game was far from ideal, and Dormady completed just 10 of his 19 pass attempts to the left or right of the field.
Guarantano’s chart was uglier. But it included a bad drop by Johnson on the middle slant that worked so well for Dormady.
“The one third down, we need to catch the football there,” Jones said. “(Johnson) made some big plays in some moments that we needed big plays. He understands what it is to be driven and work every single day.”
Despite setting career-highs in yards and receptions in the game, Johnson was focused in on that one drop after the game.
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” Johnson said of his drop on third down. “I need to focus on bringing the ball in,” he said.
Guarantano’s two completions were on delayed throws. One was a screen, one was a play action rollout. But nobody else was open. Two of his passes were likely thrown well enough to be caught, including Johnson’s drop and a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage intended for Byrd.
In the run game, there’s plenty of rom for both players to improve. Dormady had a costly fumble in the first quarter and Guarantano only had four yards on three carries.
Running back John Kelly said the offense has to adjust when Guarantano is on the field.
“I feel like we just have to adjust with Jarrett being able to run more,” Kelly said. “We just have to execute. It’s on the entire offense. We have confidence in either of our quarterbacks.”
Senior offensive tackle Brett Kendrick had a different view of where the improvement needs to take place.
“We have a lot of faith in Quinten and (Guarantano),” he said. “It wasn’t a big adjustment. They’re different in their style of play. Our job description stays the same no matter what.”
Regardless of the playing style, they both need more help. The easy routes worked because of a clear gap in athleticism. But slant patterns won’t average a 15 yard gain moving forward in the SEC schedule.
Tennessee needs it playmakers on the perimeter to get open. And it also needs to block better in order to give the quarterbacks time to throw outside.
This performance isn’t completely on the quarterbacks. But if Tennessee rallies to improve this season, it will need to start with Dormady and Guarantano.