In back-to-back weeks, freshman quarterback Brian Maurer has exited a start in the first half after sustaining a blow to the head.
Against Mississippi State, Maurer was upended on a 13-yard run and landed awkwardly on his head. He hopped up right after, played three more plays, then was held out after he threw an interception and came off the field. Against Alabama on Saturday, Maurer was shoved to the ground after throwing a pass to Jauan Jennings, and his head hit the back of his own lineman’s leg in the first quarter.
In both instances, redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano took over the offense at quarterback. In the Vols’ win over Mississippi State, Guarantano played well and managed the offense, completing six of his seven passes for 106 yards and the game-sealing touchdown. But against Alabama, his play saw a complete 180 degree shift.
Guarantano missed several throws, most noticeably a wide open Jauan Jennings heading into the end zone, and finished 7-of-16 for 55 yards and had the catastrophic fumble at the goal line on fourth down in the fourth quarter that was returned 100 yards the opposite direction for a touchdown.
After that fumble, Guarantano got an ear full from head coach Jeremy Pruitt, and he was pulled for the remaining seven minutes of the game in favor of redshirt freshman JT Shrout.
On Monday, Pruitt met with the media for his weekly press conference. The first question he was asked, unsurprisingly, was about Tennessee’s quarterback situation. What’s the latest on Maurer’s health? If he can’t go, will Guarantano lead the offense, or will JT Shrout get the nod at quarterback?
As for Maurer’s health, Pruitt says the medical staff is still evaluating him.
“I trust our medical staff. They’re the ones who make the decisions on things like that,” Pruitt said on Monday. “I meet with all our players lots throughout the week, but it’s never about any kind of medical condition, so I trust our staff.
“Right now, they’re still trying to determine where he’s at.”
Later, Pruitt added that he suspects Maurer won’t practice on Monday, but he’ll know more “in the next couple days” about Maurer’s health and availability.
Pruitt called Maurer a “game-time decision” on Wednesday of last week before Tennessee’s match-up with No. 1 Alabama. Just hours before kick-off on Saturday, it became evident Maurer would be the Vols’ starting quarterback, and he came out as the starter when Tennessee took the field in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Aside from an interception — which wasn’t Maurer’s fault because Jauan Jennings dropped a pass, and the ball went right into the arms of an Alabama defender — the freshman played exceptionally well. Maurer was 5-of-7 for 62 yards and scored UT’s only touchdown, barreling in from two yards out to draw even at 7-all.
But once Maurer came out, Tennessee’s offense changed, and Guarantano wasn’t nearly as effective.
When asked if Guarantano would start if Maurer couldn’t go or if there would be a competition this week at practice between the veteran and the younger Shrout, Pruitt said he and the coaches will “see how the week goes.”
Shrout has only made two game appearances this season, coming in for a few drives against UT-Chattanooga last month and playing in two possessions against Alabama this past weekend. In those two games, Shrout is 3-of-10 for 23 yards.
Maurer’s health will be the biggest focus this week, but Pruitt and his coaching staff won’t let it dictate the whole week. They’ll make sure that if Maurer can’t play, whoever fills in for him will be prepared.
“We’ll get the other guys ready to play, which is no different than we’ve done every week,” Pruitt stated. “The starter usually takes the majority of the reps. We’ll get those other guys ready to go.”