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Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Is Tennessee staying with JG at QB? If so why?” – Scott
Nathanael: My gut says yes, Jarrett Guarantano will start on Saturday against Georgia. I think Brian Maurer will still be in for a few series, especially if JG struggles early on. But I do think Guarantano gets the start, and that’s likely because he looked the best during practice and he gives UT their best chance to win against a team like the Bulldogs. Now, Tennessee isn’t winning on Saturday regardless of who plays at QB, but I think the staff will ultimately side with Guarantano because they don’t want to just throw Maurer to the wolves like that. Georgia’s defense is elite. Giving Maurer his first start against UGA doesn’t seem like the greatest idea. I personally would be okay with it, but it’s just not the direction I see this staff taking right now.
Ben: No official decision yet. We won’t know for sure until somebody trots out for the first offensive possession of the Georgia game, but I believe it will be Jarrett Guarantano. I don’t get the sense that the coaching staff is willing to throw the freshman to the wolves. Even more important — I know it’s hard for some to believe — but while not as dramatic, Brian Maurer makes the same mistakes as Guarantano — throwing into heavy coverage, missing throws, etc. Guarantano at his best gives the team the best chance to win even if Maurer is at his best. Obviously Guarantano hasn’t played his best, and if that continues, the coaching staff will be forced to switch quarterbacks.
“If JG transfers after the season who do you think starts next year?” – @roy__rogers__
Nathanael: Even if Guarantano doesn’t transfer this offseason — which I find pretty unlikely — I still think UT’s starting QB position is up in the air next season. To me, I’m banking on either Maurer or Harrison Bailey taking the starting job. I know a lot of people are pointing to Maryland transfer Kasim Hill, but I just don’t trust that he’s the same QB he was as a freshman in 2017 after suffering two ACL injuries in two years. He’s taking this year to redshirt and recover, which is good, but his accuracy has always been an issue. Take away his athleticism and ability to run — assuming the ACL injuries hamper that, which they likely have — and I don’t see how he’s any better than JT Shrout, just with more playing experience.
Unless Tennessee brings in a grad transfer like a potential Jake Bentley or someone like that, my money is on Maurer or Bailey.
Ben: For game one, I don’t believe it will be Harrison Bailey. I’ve heard rumblings of what would be best for Bailey is him not being thrown into the first game upon arriving on campus. He needs time to develop. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be a bust by any means, but very few freshmen play to the level of an upperclassmen upon their arrival.
With that being said, I believe it’ll be Maurer or Maryland transfer Kasim Hill who gets the start in the season-opener against Charlotte on September 2nd. Though Hill is probably more effective with his arm, both can hurt defenses with their legs. Whoever is the most impressive with their arm will obviously have the leg-up on the other, but more importantly, whoever takes care of the football better will have the upper-hand. Watching both in practice this fall, there’s not much separation at the moment.
“Will there be as many Georgia fans, than Tennessee fans Saturday?” – @GSix1987
Nathanael: No. I’d be stunned if that many UGA fans showed up. I do think there will be a significant amount of red and black in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, but it’ll still be 70/30 Tennessee fans at worst, in my opinion.
“How do you feel the OL and DL are doing?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the offensive line so far this season. They’ve continued to get better, and right now they’re playing serviceably, especially considering you have two true freshmen and a redshirt sophomore either starting or playing significant snaps. The OL still isn’t top half of the SEC in terms of quality or production, but they’ve improved, and that’s what we were looking for this season.
As for the defensive line, talk about underwhelming. All the talk this offseason was about Aubrey Solomon getting eligible, but he’s looked vastly overrated so far. He has a grand total of 12 tackles and one tackle for loss so far this season. Matthew Butler has played okay at times, and LaTrell Bumphus has flashed ability. Greg Emerson has too. But on the whole, Tennessee’s defensive line has probably been the third-worst unit this season behind the secondary and quarterback.
Ben: I really feel like the offensive line has improved a ton since last season. Thanks to Jim Chaney finding a set five to trot out there, the group has continued to improve from game-to-game — particularly in pass protection. As Darnell Wright, Wanya Morris, and K’Rojhn Calbert continue to gain experience, the line will only continue to improve.
As for the defensive line, it’s the worst defensive line I’ve seen in quite some time. I don’t believe Tennessee has a single lineman who would be in the two-deep at the better schools in the SEC — Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Missouri, or LSU. The JUCO signees haven’t been able to get on to the field, Aubrey Solomon might as well be ineligible, and none of the freshmen have been able to crack the rotation. This group really misses Emmit Gooden, but they must improve as the season goes on or else Tennessee won’t sniff four or five wins this year.
“Will we see more of Crouch running the football on short yardages plays?” – Torrey
Nathanael: I would imagine so, yes. That felt like something they were saving for SEC play, and I think we’ll see it more. I don’t know that you’ll see it more than twice a game, and I don’t think you’ll see it every game from here on out. But Crouch has power and great tackle-breaking ability, and UT’s running back room lacks someone with his size and bruising strength.
Ben: I believe so. I’d be surprised if he tallies at least five carries in a single game this season, but we’ll at least see him in multiple short-yardage situations going forward. Crouch was effective doing so against Florida, and he will be continued to be used going forward.
“Do we get any football commitments in the month of October and if so, who is close to a commitment?” – @hesenij
Nathanael: I think so, yes. Defensive end Jacolbe Cowan is announcing on Friday of this week, but I would be surprised at this point if he picks UT. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see one of the Whitehaven players commit or flip to Tennessee at some point this month. There are a handful of other players, such as Tyler Baron and Jay Hardy, who are likely candidates to commit to UT as well.
Ben: Just depends on when Tyler Baron and Jay Hardy decide to announce. If it’s in the month of October, yes. Maybe the Vols receive a commitment from one of the three Whitehaven linebackers in Memphis, but I would say no simply because there aren’t any huge UT targets planning to announce soon.
“Can we simply recruit better and be better at football? Thank you.” – Brian
Nathanael: That would be nice, Brian. That would be nice.
Ben: One day.