RTI contributor Murphy Carlton is the author of this article
Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols finally got into the win column for the 2019 season, as Tennessee shut out UT-Chattanooga 45-0 on Saturday afternoon.
A big talking point this past week leading up to the game revolved around the quarterbacks on UT’s roster. Some fans wanted to see a change at quarterback and allow either true freshman Brian Maurer or redshirt freshman JT Shrout to get some playing time to see if either could provide a spark for a struggling Tennessee offense.
Jarrett Guarantano remained the starting quarterback, and he played well after nearly throwing an interception on the first play of the game. The redshirt junior quarterback completed his next seven pass attempts and finished the day 7-of-8 for 142 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
Thanks to the offense and a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, the Vols were able to get out to a big enough lead to work in both backup quarterbacks.
Both Brian Maurer and JT Shrout played on Saturday, and both were able to get some much-needed playing time before Tennessee starts SEC play next week.
Neither backup quarterback had as much luck running the offense as Guarantano, but both flashed some potential. Maurer ran for a six-yard touchdown — though he missed on both his pass attempts — and Shrout made some good throws — though he was picked off, and it was only called back after a roughing the passer penalty.
After the victory, head coach Jeremy Pruitt spoke to the media regarding all three quarterbacks and what he saw from each of them.
“We just went business as usual. Jarrett is our quarterback, okay? And he’ll be our quarterback until we decide that he’s not,” Pruitt said after the game. “But he deserves to be our quarterback. He’s outplayed everybody. As far as playing the other (quarterbacks), we’ve been wanting to do that since the first game.”
Pruitt squashed any reason to believe he and his staff had lost any confidence in Guarantano being the starting quarterback. Although it’s not a popular opinion with a lot of Vol fans right now, Guarantano is the best quarterback on the roster according to Pruitt.
Saturday’s play did little to contradict that.
Maurer was the first quarterback not named Jarrett Guarantano to see the field this season for the Vols. The true freshman took over on the third series of the game. That was a decision that was already determined before the game by the coaches.
“We put Brian (Maurer) in because we had a few more run plays for Brian, which you saw probably later on in the game,” Pruitt explained.
The run plays for Maurer paid off, as the freshman scored his first touchdown of his career on a six-yard run. Maurer was unable to complete a pass, going 0-2 on the day, but he finished with 16 rushing yards on four carries, and he ran several RPOs while on the field.
The decision to go with Maurer first instead of Shrout “had to do with who had out-practiced who,” according to Pruitt. That was a change from the first couple weeks, however.
“Last week, the last two weeks, we were going to put JT (Shrout) in the game first,” Pruitt stated. “But Brian had a few run plays in there that we were going to let him do. So we decided to go that route.”
Shrout also took a decent amount of snaps for the Vols, completing three passes for 29 yards. Shrout showed off his canon of an arm, but he was noticeably inaccurate and lacked touch on some of his throws.
When asked about what he saw from both of his backup QBs, Pruitt said both showed promise, but both quarterbacks also made some really bad choices during the game.
“They’ve both done some good things in the game, and they both made some horrible decisions in the game,” Pruitt said. “Which is expected, right? That’s their first opportunity. That’s why we’ve been wanting to get them out there. So we’ll see.”
The Vols may need Maurer or Shrout to be ready to go at any point as UT heads into SEC play. It would be in the Vols’ best interest to have a clear-cut backup to turn to if need be, as the schedule moving forward does not get any easier.
Guarantano has yet to survive a whole season as starter without either missing a start or missing a significant chunk of action in a game. If he goes down with injury this year, Tennessee will need to know which backup will take his place.
As of right now, however, Pruitt still doesn’t know who the No. 2 quarterback will be.
“We’ll check the film and see who was most consistent and see where we’re at,” Pruitt said. “But I didn’t see much that separated them today.”
At the end of the day, Guarantano played exceptionally better than he did in the first two weeks, and both backup quarterbacks saw the field and gained valuable experience and film to study.
The Vols will begin preparation for next week as they head down to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators.