After the first two weeks of Tennessee’s football season, starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano hasn’t done much to endear himself to fans.
Guarantano’s stats look fine on paper, but it’s how he’s played on the field that’s been drawing a lot of fire from fans and media alike. The redshirt junior has completed 63.2 percent of his 68 pass attempts for 487 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions in the Vols’ first two games of the 2019 season. But Tennessee is 0-2 in those first two games, and Guarantano’s play has been one of the reasons.
Against BYU, Guarantano was late on several throws that could’ve led to big gains or touchdowns, and both of his touchdown passes to Jauan Jennings could’ve been picked off. Guarantano’s one interception in the game was a bad throw into triple coverage.
Despite all that, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt still thinks Guarantano is the best option at quarterback for the Vols for now. But Pruitt also admitted that Guarantano needs to improve at the same time.
“I don’t think anything is holding Jarrett back,” Pruitt said during his weekly Monday press conference. “Let me tell you: Jarrett Guarantano has practiced extremely well from spring to fall camp, and he’s made some really nice plays in both games. Jarrett will tell you just like I will tell you: We all, myself included, everybody’s gotta raise their standard and expectations in this program and be a little more consistent.
“That’s everybody. He’s no different than anybody else.”
On Saturday, Guarantano threw for two touchdowns and an interception, but it was far from a clean performance for the fourth-year junior. Guarantano got bailed out on his first touchdown throw when Jauan Jennings caught the ball after a BYU defender tipped it away from Guarantano’s intended target, and Jennings again bailed Guarantano out on his second touchdown by snagging the ball away from the defensive back covering him.
There were multiple occasions where Guarantano waited too late on a throw or made the wrong decision when he did throw it. He wasn’t the only reason Tennessee lost to BYU, but he was a big one.
While Pruitt says Tennessee’s offensive line did a better job blocking for Guarantano on Saturday, there were still times where a bad pocket led to some of those mistakes.
“We’ve had some pretty nice pockets most of the time, but there were a few times on Saturday where they rushed four guys where we had one guy get beat. That really collapsed the pocket, and there’s no time to throw the ball away,” Pruitt stated. “One time we had a really nice drive going in the second quarter, ball is on like the 30-yard-line, first-and-10. We’re going to take a play-action shot, but as soon as we turn around, we get sacked, and then we try to throw the ball away and get an intentional grounding. So we’ve gotta be more consistent up front.”
The drive Pruitt is referencing was Tennessee’s first possession of the second quarter. The Vols ended the first quarter with a 51-yard catch and run by Jauan Jennings, and they were set up at the BYU 28-yard-line when the second quarter began. The first play of the second quarter was the intentional grounding call, and it caused UT’s drive to fizzle out as they had to face a 2nd-and-16. That possession ended on a failed 4th-and-1 conversion attempt at the BYU 19.
Guarantano, who had his hand get hit on a helmet in the first quarter, will be fine to play in Tennessee’s next game against Chattanooga. But that game should also serve as an opportunity for UT’s coaches to see the backup signal callers in action for the first time this season.
Pruitt stated that he and his staff have stressed the importance of getting redshirt freshman JT Shrout and true freshman Brian Maurer playing time this season, but Tennessee’s play on the field hasn’t let the opportunity happen.
“It’s been important the entire time, but the opportunity has not presented itself,” Pruitt said of getting the backup QBs some in-game reps. “We said in the first game and the second game that if the opportunity presented itself, we wanted to put one or both quarterbacks in the game. We gotta create a backup quarterback.”
But until Pruitt and his staff see any of the backups in an actual game setting, Guarantano is undoubtedly still the Vols’ starting quarterback.
“There’s no doubt, if you’ve been around our program the last six months, who the best quarterback on our team is,” Pruitt added. “There’s also no doubt that sometimes when you get kinda under the lights a little bit, it’s kinda interesting to see how guys play.
“We gotta get both of these guys live game opportunities so we can see.”