The first two weeks of the 2019 season were tough for everyone involved with Tennessee’s football program. The players, coaches, and fans were all frustrated and looking for answers after the Vols’ 0-2 start.
But arguably nobody was getting as much heat for Tennessee’s losses than starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
The redshirt junior signal caller was inconsistent in UT’s 38-30 loss to Georgia State, but he put out one of his worst performances of his Tennessee career in the Vols’ 29-26 double-overtime loss to BYU last week. The stat sheet didn’t tell the whole story of Guarantano’s night against the Cougars, as the fourth-year junior struggled time and time again with timing on this throws, and he made incorrect read after incorrect read.
After that game and all throughout the last week, fans had been calling for Guarantano’s job. The social media attacks were relentless, and many fans were hoping to see little to no Guarantano on the field when the Vols took on UT-Chattanooga on Saturday.
The Vols’ starting QB wasn’t on the field a great deal against the Mocs, but when he was, he made a lot of plays.
After his first pass of the game was nearly intercepted, Guarantano completed his next seven passes and got pulled at halftime as the Vols led 35-0 over the Mocs. Guarantano finished the game 7-of-8 for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Saturday’s game marked the first time in Guarantano’s career that he threw for more than two touchdowns in a game.
For all intents and purposes, Guarantano bounced back on Saturday after his rough start to the season. But the redshirt junior said he never lost confidence in himself despite the rocky beginning to the year.
“No, I wasn’t raised that way,” Guarantano replied after the game when asked if he ever lost confidence in himself after the last two weeks. “Yeah, there were definitely some trying times and tough times, but I learned more about myself these past two weeks in these trying times than I ever have. I don’t think I ever really went through something like that.
“I’m happy to get over the hump and start to feel like myself again.”
The criticism was very loud over the last week about Guarantano’s play, and many Vol fans believed No. 2’s time should be up as the Vols’ signal caller.
Guarantano and his family certainly saw the opinions. They certainly saw some of the vitriol spewed towards the Vols’ third-year starter. But luckily for Guarantano, he has a strong support system, and he leaned on them over the last two weeks.
The redshirt junior has shown plenty of physical toughness on the field, but it was his mental toughness off of it that helped him get through the last couple weeks.
“Luckily, I have a really great family and girlfriend. My friends are excellent, and just being able to go away to them and get away from this stuff, it really helps me a lot,” Guarantano explained. “It can get rough out there sometimes, but I’m happy I have the support system that I do. My coaches and my teammates always have my back, and I’m definitely very privileged with that.”
After throwing just three interceptions in 246 pass attempts all last season, Guarantano had tossed two picks in his first 68 passes to begin the 2019 season, and he was lucky a few more of his attempts weren’t picked off.
The usually safe quarterback had been mistake-prone and sloppy with his play in the first two weeks of the season. But on Saturday, he felt like himself again.
“It was tough going through these last two weeks. I’ve never really felt like that out there. I needed to get back to myself,” Guarantano said. “I’m happy I’m feeling like myself again. Going into this next week, I got a little confidence back, and I feel really good.
“We’re going to have to perform really well all around next week. We’re ready to work hard.”
Saturday’s performance doesn’t erase Guarantano’s play in the first two weeks, but it could go a long way in helping him get back into a rhythm and regain the confidence he needs as Tennessee prepares for SEC play.
Fans were calling for UT’s backup quarterbacks to play instead of Guarantano, but the fourth-year junior didn’t have any animosity towards the young QBs behind him even with that. In fact, he was happy to see both Brian Maurer and JT Shrout play on Saturday once the Vols had jumped out to a big lead quickly.
Guarantano knows it’s important to have capable backups once a team enters conference play, and Saturday served as the first time for both young quarterbacks to see the field as Vols.
“I know Brian and JT needed some snaps,” Guarantano stated. “Going into this rough schedule of the SEC, we’re going to have to rely on a backup quarterback sooner or later. That happens all the time. I’m happy with how they performed. We have film to watch now of them.
“We’ve only really had a chance to watch them in practice, and now we have some game tape to study with in the quarterback room.”
Neither Maurer nor Shrout did enough to disprove head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s assertions that Guarantano is undoubtedly the Vols’ starter at quarterback, but both flashed some ability and put themselves on tape to be evaluated.
In a perfect world, Tennessee won’t need to turn to a backup in SEC play. And in a perfect world, Guarantano will be able to move forward and use Saturday’s performance as a springboard for the rest of the season.