True freshman Brian Maurer got his first career start at quarterback for Tennessee on Saturday against No. 3 Georgia, and he sparked a Vol offense that had struggled against FBS competition this season.
Maurer delivered a perfect pass to Marquez Callaway for a 73-yard touchdown on Tennessee’s second possession of the game to knot it up at 7-all, and he found Jauan Jennings for a 12-yard score on the next drive to give UT a 14-10 lead over the Bulldogs.
After that, things went downhill for the Vols as Georgia scored 33 unanswered points en route to a 43-14 victory, but it was evident that Maurer had stolen the show early on and appeared to win the Vols’ starting quarterback position for good.
On Monday, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt was asked if Maurer would be Tennessee’s starting quarterback for a second-straight week when the Vols host Mississippi State this upcoming weekend.
“We’re gonna see how this week goes,” Pruitt said during his weekly Monday press conference. “I think he’ll really have to have a bad week of practice not to. But we’ll see how the week goes.”
Pruitt and his staff made the decision to turn to Maurer after redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano had lackluster performances in three of the first four weeks of the season. Guarantano hadn’t played well against FBS foes this season, and he was benched to start the second half of Tennessee’s contest against Florida two weeks ago. Maurer came in and led the Vols down to their only scoring drive of the game in that match-up, helping UT put three points on the board with a field goal.
After the bye week, Pruitt decided to give the offense over to the true freshman, and he performed well in his first start.
Maurer completed 14 of his 28 pass attempts for 259 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble. Maurer’s 259 passing yards were the second-most by a true freshman in his first career start in Tennessee history, coming second only to Tyler Bray’s 325 yards and five touchdowns on the road against Memphis in 2010.
Pruitt liked what he saw from Maurer against Georgia, though he noted there were plenty of teaching moments from the game as well.
“I thought he had really good energy. He done some nice things, especially early on,” Pruitt explained. “He made some really, really nice throws. He got the ball out of his hands. But he also made some mistakes too. He probably should’ve handed the ball off a couple times, made some incorrect reads there. In the second half, a couple times he read the wrong side of the field. He made a poor decision when he threw the interception down there.
“There were way more positives than there were negatives, but he’s gotta learn from (his mistakes) and not make the same mistakes again. He did step in there and make some nice throws. I thought our kids rallied around him pretty good there.”
After Tennessee’s offense averaged 5.23 yards per play against FBS opponents in their first three contests, the Vols’ offense managed to average 5.53 yards a play against a stingy Georgia defense. Coming into Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs were holding opponents to just 4.15 yards per play. Tennessee’s 5.53 yard average is thus far the most yards per play Georgia has allowed in a single game this season.
Tennessee’s offense looked more explosive and more fired up under the direction of Maurer, and barring any major setbacks this week, he’ll be making his second career start this upcoming weekend against Mississippi State.
The Vols and the Bulldogs of Mississippi State will kick-off at Noon Eastern in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, October 12th. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.