Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is no stranger to big hits. He’s taken many of them in his 16 starts as the Vols’ quarterback over the last season and a half. But the redshirt sophomore has shown resolve each and every game as Tennessee’s signal caller.
Guarantano has been knocked out of a few games early after receiving some jarring tackles in games, and he was held out of Tennessee’s road game against Missouri last season after getting banged up the previous week against Southern Miss.
But so far this year, Guarantano hasn’t missed a start despite getting sacked and hit multiple times a game.
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During Tennessee’s 24-7 upset win over No. 11 Kentucky on Saturday, Guarantano took a shot from Kentucky’s star linebacker, Josh Allen. The senior linebacker entered the game as the SEC’s leader in sacks this season, and he notched another one against the Vols, bringing his yearly total to 11.
Guarantano took that hit from Allen, but he got right back up. And after the game, he elaborated on that play.
“There’s no hit that’s going to take me out,” Guarantano stated. “He’s (Josh Allen) from New Jersey, and we’re pretty close, and I’ve known him for a while now. He’s a great player. I was having some fun out there with him.”
Allen was mostly held in check by Tennessee’s offensive line on Saturday. He totaled six tackles, but he only managed the one sack and had just one tackle for loss. Allen had 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in his previous nine games before Saturday.
Guarantano gave all the credit to the Vols’ offensive line for limiting Allen and helping the offense amass 412 yards of offense against a stout Kentucky defense.
“Our offensive line played out of this world today,” Guarantano said. “When we have a running game, we’re very, very hard to stop. We probably rushed for more than 200 yards. I thought that we played excellent out there.
“I’m very proud of the offensive line, the way that they competed and the way they got after it. (Kentucky) have a very good front seven, especially Josh Allen.”
Tennessee totaled 215 rushing yards and a touchdown on 40 carries against a Kentucky defense that was only allowing 133.2 rushing yards a game to opponents before Saturday’s contest. Ty Chandler totaled 89 yards on 16 carries while Tim Jordan got a touchdown and 63 yards on 15 attempts.
That run game helped Tennessee’s passing attack find room as well. Guarantano finished the day completing 12 of his 20 pass attempts for 197 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. During the game, Guarantano broke Casey Clausen’s school record for most consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. Clausen completed 143 straight attempts in 2003 without tossing a pick, and Guarantano surpassed that mark on Saturday.
But Guarantano had no idea of that fact after the game.
“Wait, what record was it?” Guarantano replied when asked if he knew about that record. “Most pass attempts without an interception? Oh, that’s pretty good then, huh?”
Guarantano’s performance along with the offensive line’s and running game helped give Tennessee the 24-7 victory over Kentucky. The defense certainly did their part as well, holding the Wildcats’ dangerous rushing attack to just 77 yards on 35 carries.
Coming into the game, Kentucky was nearly a touchdown favorite over the Vols. The Wildcats were looking to end their losing streak in Neyland Stadium that dated all the way back to 1984. Kentucky was coming off a 34-17 loss to Georgia last week that saw them lose the opportunity to win the SEC East, and Tennessee was coming off a lackluster 14-3 win over Charlotte.
Vol fans were upset after Tennessee’s ugly win over the 49ers last week, and many believed the team’s poor play was a sign of things to come against Kentucky. But Guarantano said that the team came back after that game and prepared exceptionally well during practice this week.
“The whole week, I think the whole team felt very confident going into this game,” Guarantano explained. “I know we were struggling last week, but this week was different. I think we had great practices. We were getting after each other Tuesday and Wednesday, and I thought we had a lot of confidence in the locker room despite what we did last week. I thought that we were ready for this week.”
That preparation paid off, and the Vols jumped out to an early lead against Kentucky and never looked back. The Vols held a 17-0 lead at halftime after a Hail Mary touchdown as time expired, and they got up to a 24-0 lead in the third quarter.
Guarantano hasn’t had the chance to experience many moments like that in his Tennessee career, and he wants it to become more commonplace before he leaves.
“It felt good,” he said when asked about leading a top-15 team by 24 points in the third quarter. “We’re not used to it, so it definitely felt like we need to do it some more.”