RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
“There’s no doubt that in the first three games, Jarrett [Guarantano] didn’t play as good as he’s capable of playing.”
While many fans, critics, and commentators around the country have been saying something similar, these were the words of Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt after UT’s practice on Wednesday.
And Pruitt is right; Guarantano has shown flashes of greatness in the past, but he has yet to shine in the young 2019 season.
On paper, Guarantano’s 2019 season doesn’t look all that bad. The redshirt junior has completed 65.8 percent of his 76 passes for 629 yards and has thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions. But for anyone watching Guarantano’s first two games of the season, they saw worse play than what the stat sheet indicated.
But Guarantano has shown signs of promise in the past, which makes his 2019 start so puzzling.
Flash back to 2018. On the road against No. 21 Auburn, Guarantano threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 30-24 upset victory against the Tigers. With a variety of passes, including check down screens and deep-ball bombs, Guarantano looked in control of the offense and completed passes to nine different Volunteer receivers.
Four weeks later against No. 11 Kentucky, Guarantano limited mistakes and completed 60 percent of his passes. Although he threw for just 178 yards, Guarantano scored twice through the air and broke a school record for most passes without an interception, breaking Casey Clausen’s record of 143 consecutive passes without a pick in a 24-7 victory against the Wildcats — who were in the midst of their best season in program history.
In all of 2018, Guarantano threw just three interceptions — two of which came against the Florida Gators — and would extend his record-breaking streak of passes without a pick to 167 before throwing an interception in Tennessee’s final game of the season against Vanderbilt.
So, if school history is any indication, Guarantano is capable of greatness.
“I’ve seen him at his best, and when he’s on, he’s pretty good,” Pruitt added on Wednesday.
But Pruitt, like Tennessee fans everywhere, are wondering where the 2018 version of Guarantano went and why Tennessee’s starting QB can’t replicate it in 2019.
Perhaps, as in the past, a weak offensive line would point to the cause of the Volunteers’ quarterback’s struggle. But Pruitt says that’s not the case.
“There have been times in his career that maybe based on some things around him, he maybe didn’t have as good of an opportunity to be at his best all the time, whether it be protection or whatever. Maybe just the scoreboard in itself,” Pruitt added. “But I do feel that our offensive line is much improved at giving him a pretty nice pocket this year and giving him an opportunity.”
Despite Tennessee’s improved offensive line, Guarantano has thrown two interceptions already this season, has consistently missed open receivers, and has been late on several passes.
On shortened playing time against UT-Chattanooga, however, Guarantano finished 7-for-8, with three of those seven completed passes ending in touchdowns. It’s a small sample size against an inferior opponent, but perhaps his most recent game against the Mocs is an indicator of things to come.
All Guarantano can do is attempt to improve in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s new offense and work to bring back glimpses of the quarterback Vol fans saw in 2018. According to Jeremy Pruitt, Guarantano is capable of doing just that.
“He’s working hard to be at his best for every Saturday, and he’ll continue to do that.”
If the Volunteers want to pull of their biggest upset so far in Pruitt’s young head coaching career this weekend against the No. 9 Florida Gators and salvage what many have considered a lost season, Guarantano will not only have to show flashes of his former self, but he’ll have to be better than he ever has.