RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
“There’s no doubt, if you’ve been around our program the last six months, who the best quarterback on our team is.”
This was Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s statement regarding the Vols’ current quarterback situation during his Monday press conference following Tennessee’s colossal collapse on Saturday against the BYU Cougars. Despite redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano’s ineffectiveness on the field, Pruitt came to the defense of his offense’s leader on Monday.
Guarantano threw a pair of touchdowns and had an interception against the Cougars, but he was bailed out by Jauan Jennings on both of his touchdown throws, and his interception was a throw into triple coverage. Not only that, but the fourth-year junior was late on many other attempts throughout the game.
Unfortunately for Pruitt, Guarantano, and Tennessee fans alike, the past six months don’t matter as much as the last two weeks. Only the past two weeks show up in the win-loss column, and the Vols have yet to add anything to the “win” portion.
While coaches and fellow players — including starting running back Ty Chandler — have come to Guarantano’s aid in postgame comments, the fans, in overwhelming fashion, have done the opposite.
Thus, the demand to replace Guarantano with either redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout or true freshman Brian Maurer has skyrocketed from the Vol faithful. According to Pruitt, however, there is no set backup quarterback at the moment.
“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,” Pruitt said. “We have to create a backup quarterback.”
The average Tennessee fan will likely find two issues with Pruitt’s comments there: First, there has not been a single opportunity against either out-of-conference opponent (Georgia State or BYU) at home where the Vols could give either backup QB the opportunity for real, in-game action. Second, there is, as of right now, no official backup quarterback.
Apparently “backup” quarterback Brian Maurer didn’t know that.
After BYU defensive lineman Zac Dawe threw Guarantano’s cleat out of play after it came off Guarantano’s foot in the first half, it appeared as though a backup quarterback would have to come in, if only for one play. Brian Maurer quickly put on his helmet as if to signal he was ready to take the next snap from the center.
According to Pruitt, that was all Maurer’s doing, and none of the coaches told him to do that.
“He’s not the backup, first of all,” Pruitt said of Maurer. “He was a guy that saw the quarterback came out, so he ran out on the field, which I kinda liked.
“We didn’t tell anybody to go in or come out, but he did run out on the field. I noticed that as I was coming off the field.”
Again, the average Tennessee fan reading Pruitt’s previous proclamation is left, perhaps, more confused than before. According to Pruitt, Maurer is not officially the backup quarterback, but Pruitt appreciates Maurer’s ambition, which may land Maurer the official backup position down the line.
Regardless of who is second or third on the quarterback depth chart, Pruitt believes that in-game repetitions will be the only way to judge who earns that spot.
“Sometimes when you get kinda under the lights a little bit, it’s kinda interesting to see how guys play,” Pruitt added. “We gotta get both of these guys live game opportunities so we can see [how they perform].”
The upcoming game against UT-Chattanooga should provide Tennessee with the opportunity to see at least one, if not both, of the backup quarterbacks in action. And if Guarantano continues to perform the way he has the past two weeks, Pruitt might be forced to make that judgment about his other quarterbacks sooner rather than later.