There’s been a ton of conversation this week about which quarterback should start against No. 3 Georgia next Saturday when the Vols come off of their bye week.
Rightfully so, as Tennessee has received poor quarterback play through the first four games of the season. Last Saturday’s 34-3 loss to Florida was the tipping point for head coach Jeremy Pruitt. After Jarrett Guarantano left points on the field in the first half and threw two interceptions, the second-year head coach decided to go with true freshman Brian Maurer to begin the second half.
Maurer orchestrated the only point-producing drive of the game in his first series of the game. In fairness to Guarantano, he would have produced the only touchdown-scoring drive of the game had Jauan Jennings caught his pass in the end zone.
Anyways, Maurer looked good on his first drive. His first attempt of the game was a 7-yard completion to Jennings on 1st-and-10. He then found Brandon Johnson for 22 yards on 2nd-and-3. Maurer’s best play of the game came on 3rd-and-12 when he found Josh Palmer for a gain of 17 yards as he was being hit.
Ultimately however, Guarantano had the better overall game between the two, though he had the more glaring mistakes. Here’s what I saw from both quarterbacks when re-watching the game against the Gators. We’ll start with Guarantano.
The following passing plays were what I deemed good plays by Guarantano.
- On 1st-and-10, Guarantano found Jennings on a screen pass for 6 yards.
- Then on 3rd-and-4, he found Jennings again on a hitch for 27 yards that resulted in a first down.
- Following the K’Rojhn Calbert penalty that shouldn’t have been called, Guarantano found Tim Jordan for 2 yards on 3rd-and-14. He was pressured from the right side, had nobody open downfield, and had to dump it off. Calbert’s questionable penalty killed the drive despite Guarantano getting off to a good start.
- On 1st-and-10, Guarantano found Jennings for an 8-yard completion.
- Following the Kyle Trask fumble to set Tennessee up with good field position, Guarantano managed to drive the offense down to the goal line. On 2nd-and-goal, his pass to Austin Pope was tipped at the line of scrimmage. It was a great play call by Jim Chaney. Pope lined up at fullback and snuck out into the flat for what would have been a touchdown, but as Guarantano came out of his play-action motion, Eric Gray whiffed on his block, and Jon Greenard made a great play on the ball to tip it. It was simply a great defensive play.
- On 3rd-and-goal, Guarantano was picked off by the Gators after his passed went right through Jennings’ hands. Some have wanted to jump on the quarterback for putting too much steam on the ball. This is SEC football. That ball has to be caught, and because of the tight throwing lanes in the end zone, Guarantano has to put zip on the ball.
- This is the possession where it all began to roll downhill for Guarantano. We’ll talk about the negative plays in a moment, but he did find Jennings on 3rd-and-14 for a gain of 19 yards to pick up the first down as he was being drilled. It was his best play of the game and the best of his season so far.
- He also found Jennings for a gain of four on 2nd-and-11 following the first down.
- Guarantano had an incomplete pass to Jennings on 1st-and-10, but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line needs to do a better job of chopping down the arms of defenders to prevent tipped passes. There were several against Florida.
- Guarantano’s final positive play of the game came at the end of the third quarter when he found Marquez Callaway for a gain of 27 yards on 1st-and-10. He had just re-entered the game to replace Maurer.
Guarantano had more “good” plays than “bad” plays, but his bad plays were really, really bad.
On the first drive of the game, Guarantano couldn’t connect with Chandler on a swing pass. This happened twice against Florida, and it falls on both the quarterback and the running back. While Guarantano could improve his touch on the throw, Chandler is not running great routes to help his quarterback out. Chandler is taught to lose a yard on his route in order to catch the ball in stride. Instead, he’s losing multiple yards on his route, which is ruining the timing of the throw.
The third drive of the game for Guarantano was miserable aside from the incredible third down throw to Jennings on the sideline while being hit. He began the second quarter with a delay of game penalty, which is inexcusable for a fourth-year quarterback coming out of a quarter change. It’s simply a lack of awareness and focus.
On the following play, he missed Dominick Wood-Anderson, who was streaking wide open down the seam that could have resulted in an 83-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-all. Instead, he threw an interception to end the drive which resulted in a field goal for Florida to extend its lead to 10-0.
On the interception, Guarantano and Callaway had a miscommunication. It was Guarantano’s fault. His pre-snap read was that Florida’s secondary was in cover-two. Callaway read it correctly and saw the corner squat on the play, which is why he carried his route up field. Guarantano expected him to run a hitch instead, and when he didn’t, the quarterback threw straight to the hands of Marco Wilson for a pick.
Guarantano’s first quarter was pretty good, but it’s as if he lost all of his confidence when Jennings dropped the football in the end zone. He then came out and was called for a delay of game to begin the second quarter, missed a wide-open Wood-Anderson, was picked off by Wilson because of a miscommunication with Callaway, and was then benched to begin the second half.
With five-man protections, Guarantano was 2-of-7 for 29 yards and two interceptions. He began 0-of-5 with two picks when behind a five-man protection. With a six-man protection, he was 3-of-4 for 27 yards, and he was 2-of-2 for 31 yards behind a seven-man protection. Guarantano was 1-for-1 for 8 yards when he had eight blockers. Both of the times he was sacked came when he had a five-man protection.
When facing pressure, he was 3-of-4 for 48 yards. When Guarantano didn’t have pressure in his face, he was actually worse completing just five of his 11 attempts for 41 yards and two interceptions.
On third down, Guarantano was 3-for-6 for 48 yards. Both of his interceptions came on third down, and he was sacked once. The junior only picked up two first downs in eight third down attempts.
The fourth-year junior was only under center five times, which means he was in shotgun just over 80 percent of the time. Chaney went with 11 personnel — one running back and one tight end — more often than 12 personnel — one running back and two tight ends.
Chaney used 11 personnel more often than 12 personnel with Maurer as well. The true freshman was under center just three times, and the Vols ran the ball each time.
Speaking of Maurer, let’s take a look at his game against Florida. The following plays were the ones I deemed good passing plays from Maurer.
- On his first throw of the game, Maurer found Jennings for a gain of 7 yards on 1st-and-10.
- Maurer then found Brandon Johnson, who made a man miss, for a gain of 22 yards on 2nd-and-3 to pick up the first down.
- Maurer’s best throw of the day came on his first drive of the game, as he led Tennessee to its only point points of the game. On third-and-12, Maurer delivered a beautiful pass to Palmer for a gain of 17 yards and a first down.
While all were great plays that resulted in Tennessee scoring points, those were Maurer’s only good passing plays of the game. The following were what I deemed the bad ones.
- On 2nd-and-12, Maurer threw an incomplete pass to Wood-Anderson because his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t his fault the pass was tipped, but it’s a good thing that it was because a Florida safety was waiting to jump in front of Wood-Anderson to pick off the pass.
- Maurer was again incomplete when trying to find Callaway deep in the end zone on 1st-and-10 following the 22-yard completion to Johnson. Callaway may not have run the most crisp route, but Maurer threw the ball out-of-bounds and didn’t give his receiver a chance to catch the ball.
- Then on 2nd-and-10, Maurer threw into triple-coverage trying to find Cedric Tillman. He was lucky the pass wasn’t picked off.
- To begin the next drive, Maurer once again missed Callaway deep and, yet again, he threw it out-of-bounds, not giving Callaway a chance to make a play on the ball.
- The next play was incomplete to Wood-Anderson on a tight end screen that was blown up at the line of scrimmage by the Gators.
- Maurer threw an interception to end the drive when trying to find Wood-Anderson once again.
- To begin his third drive of the game and the last one before Guarantano came back into the game, Maurer’s first pass was a completion, well, to himself. The ball was tipped, ricocheted, and Maurer ended up catching it before it hit the ground. The play lost yardage.
- Maurer then tossed an incomplete pass to Palmer deep down the sideline. As was the case with the previous two deep balls, Maurer threw it out-of-bounds, not giving his receiver a chance to go up and make a play.
With a five-man protection, Maurer was 1-of-5 for 17 yards. His lone sack and interception of the game came when he had five blockers up front. Maurer was 2-of-4 for five yards with a six-man protection, and he was 0-of-1 with seven blockers. He was 1-of-1 for 22 yards with an eight-man front.
When facing no pressure, the freshman was 2-of-8 for 29 yards. Against pressure, he was 1-of-2 for 17 yards. His only interception came when facing pressure. On third down, Maurer was 1-of-3 for 17 yards. He only picked up one first down, was picked off, and was sacked.
What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, however, is the way Maurer energized the offense upon his entry. There was an uptick in not only the energy, but there was a noticeable difference in the effort as well.
Maurer’s swag, confidence, and energy is something that is very appealing to an offense that has lacked such components all season. But he’s still a true freshman, and his play on the field indicates just that.