Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano will reportedly take over as Tennessee’s starting quarterback this weekend when the Vols host South Carolina. It marks the third time in the Butch Jones era that the Vols have switched quarterbacks mid-season for performance reasons and not because of injury.
Guarantano has played a very limited role so far this season, making three appearances in five games and completing just 12 of his 24 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. But the decision to give him the starting job was made because Tennessee’s offense has hit a wall the past couple weeks, and the offense needs a spark in the biggest way.
But how often has a quarterback change mid-season worked out for the Vols in the recent past?
Butch Jones has turned to a different quarterback mid-season because of performance issues twice previously. In 2013, Nathan Peterman got the start over Justin Worley when Tennessee traveled down to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators. That only lasted a half, however, and Worley assumed the starting job once again after that game. And in 2014, Peterman got the start against Alabama after Worley got hurt, but once again Peterman didn’t last the whole game. This time Jones turned to Josh Dobbs, and Dobbs never relinquished the job for the rest of his eligibility.
But what about before the Butch Jones era? How have quarterback changes mid-season gone for other Tennessee coaches?
In 2011, Tyler Bray got injured and Matt Simms took over as the starter. Simms, however, was ineffective in his fill-in starts, and after two games against LSU and Alabama, Derek Dooley turned to Justin Worley. Once Bray was healthy, Worley would give the starting job back because he didn’t help the offense much either.
Bray was involved in another quarterback change before 2011, but this time he was on the positive side of it. Dooley wasn’t happy with the team’s performance under Simms in 2010, and he turned to Bray for the final four regular season games. The Vols would win all four of those games, and Bray would flash his potential as a true freshman in those contests.
Jonathan Crompton was involved in one of the most volatile quarterback situations in recent Vol history. Crompton was the starter for the 2008 season, but he was pulled midway through the year to give way to Nick Stephens. Phillip Fulmer was desperate for some sort of spark for an anemic offense, and many hoped the move would save Fulmer’s job.
Ultimately, it didn’t. Neither quarterback performed well that season, and even B.J. Coleman got a shot late in a game.
In 2004, the Vols entered the season with a dual-quarterback system. Freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer split reps in games to start the year, and Schaeffer got the first few starts for the season. But after three games, Fulmer decided to switch to Ainge as the starter, and Schaeffer would be used less and less. Ainge would eventually get injured, leading to Rick Clausen to take over as starter. And that set up the drama of the quarterback battle in 2005.
Ainge technically lost the starting job in 2005 because of an injury at LSU, but Clausen performed better for a large part of the season. Ainge would take the starting job back from Clausen late in the season, however, but the two flip-flopped for most of that year.
Casey Clausen was turned to in 2000 after A.J. Suggs had been the starter for the first part of the season. Clausen would never give up his starting spot for the rest of his time at Tennessee and put together one of the best careers in Vol history.
Finally, the last major quarterback change in recent history for Tennessee involved Peyton Manning. Technically Manning was called upon after injury (twice), but he had to battle both Jerry Colquit and Todd Helton in the 1994 season, Manning’s freshman year. Colquitt went down, and both Manning and Helton had a chance to win the job. Helton ultimately did, but then an injury forced Manning into action.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Vols have had success turning to different quarterbacks mid-season over the last 20-plus years. Josh Dobbs, Erik Ainge, Tyler Bray, and Casey Clausen all performed well after being given control of the offense. But other quarterbacks, such as Nathan Peterman, Nick Stephens, and Justin Worley, turned out to be the wrong choices.
Tennessee desperately needs some sort of catalyst on offense. Butch Jones is also in dire need of a change to cool off his scorching hot seat. He and Vol fans both are hoping that Guarantano proves to be more like a Bray or a Clausen rather than a Stephens or a Peterman.