RTI contributor Adam McCracken contributed to this article
You would be hard-pressed to find a quarterback in the FBS last season who faced more consistent pressure than Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano. But despite that constant harassment, Guarantano proved to be highly effective under pressure.
Pro Football Focus recently tweeted out a graphic ranking the top returning SEC quarterbacks by their passer rating vs. pressure (minimum 150 dropbacks). Tennessee redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano made the top three, trailing behind only Alabama’s Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley.
Here are the best QBs in the SEC in terms of passer rating vs pressure. pic.twitter.com/P4P0tDuuKa
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 10, 2019
Guarantano’s stat line didn’t earn him any awards last season, but his efficiency was a very strong asset for the Vols. Guarantano had a passer rating of 141.0, a solid 12.3 better than the previous season. He finished the 2018 season with 1,907 passing yards, a 62.3 completion percentage, and 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
By far the most impressive stat from the then-redshirt sophomore quarterback was his efficiency when being pressured. Tennessee’s offensive line woes continued last year, as evidenced by the fact that Guarantano was sacked on 22.7% of his dropbacks with pressure, the highest percentage in the SEC. Despite this, Guarantano completed an SEC-high 52.9% of his passes when being pressured, and he trailed only Tagovailoa in protecting the football among SEC quarterbacks.
According to Pro Football Focus, Guarantano was sacked six times in less than 2.5 seconds from the snap, the most in the SEC. His “average time to throw” was 2.35 seconds, the quickest in the SEC. That all shows just how quickly Guarantano can get rid of the ball and still make plays.
Guarantano also had the largest percentage of dropbacks that resulted in a pass attempt under 2.5 seconds of time in the pocket in the SEC. Of his 281 total dropbacks last season, 57.3 percent of them lasted less than 2.5 seconds. The next-closest among SEC quarterbacks was Georgia’s Jake Fromm with 53.7 percent.
Some of that had to do with scheme and making Guarantano throw quick passes to negate the pass rush. But some of that was also because the pass rush got to Guarantano quickly, and he had to go ahead and release the ball to avoid a sack.
Though he was sacked 22 times last year, Guarantano seemed to throw much better when getting rid of the ball just prior to being sacked. While this may come across as a strange point to make, there’s significance to it.
Guarantano’s stats last season show that he was one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC period when it came to quick passes. He completed 67.3 percent of his 153 pass attempts that came under 2.5 seconds, and he tossed 10 touchdowns and just one interception under those parameters.
When it came to throws under 2.5 seconds, only Tagovailoa and Fromm had better overall numbers. Tagovailoa completed 77.9 percent of his 199 attempts in those situations for 22 touchdowns and two interceptions while Fromm completed 73.3 percent of his 176 passes for 17 touchdowns and no interceptions.
But when Guarantano held on to the ball longer than 2.5 seconds, he ran into trouble.
On his 94 pass attempts that came after 2.5 seconds in the pocket, Guarantano completed only 54.3 percent of his passes and had just two touchdowns and two interceptions. Also, 16 of the 22 sacks that Guarantano suffered last season came when he was in the pocket for 2.5 seconds or longer.
To be fair, every other SEC quarterback who was graded out on Pro Football Focus saw their sack numbers go up and their completion percentage go down when they held the ball for 2.5 seconds or longer. But Guarantano also had the fewest percentage of his dropbacks that resulted in a throw after the 2.5-second mark.
Only 42.7 percent of Guarantano’s dropbacks saw him get rid of the ball after having it for 2.5 seconds or more. The next closest was Jake Fromm with a percentage of 46.3, nearly four whole percentage points higher.
Guarantano was pressured often last season, but he was actually one of the more competent quarterbacks at dealing with that pressure. When a Heisman finalist and a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award are the only two quarterbacks doing something better than you, then you know you’re doing something right.