Jarrett Guarantano’s season hasn’t gone according to plan.
The fourth-year quarterback lost his starting job heading into the Vols’ match-up with then-No. 3 Georgia — the fifth game of the season. In the first four games, he was abysmal, consistently turning the football over and missing wide open receivers one after another.
Guarantano bounced back a week later against Mississippi State, leading Tennessee to a 20-10 win after relieving Brian Maurer once the freshman suffered a concussion. Maurer suffered a second consecutive concussion this past Saturday against Alabama, which resulted in Guarantano once again being called into action.
His performance against the Crimson Tide may be the worst of Guarantano’s difficult season, and it’s largely because of one play where the redshirt junior decided to go for a quarterback sneak at the goal line instead of the designated run play that was called by Jim Chaney.
On the play, Quavaris Crouch had a wide open lane on the left side to run through, and the original call had the ball going to him. Instead, Guarantano tried to leap over the pile, fumbled it, and the loose ball was returned 100 yards for a touchdown instead.
Rather than it being a one-score game late in the second half, the Crimson Tide took a commanding 35-13 lead. All because Guarantano went rogue.
“We (Pruitt and Guarantano) talked about it yesterday,” Jeremy Pruitt explained during his Monday press conference. “You know, it’s pretty obvious what happened. It’s over with, and we’ve moved on.
“There’s lots of mistakes that were made in that game. I made more than anybody on our sideline, and we’ve got to do a better job as coaches and players where we don’t make mistakes… There’s lots of decisions that could’ve happened in the game that could’ve changed the course of the game. But that was one play. Unfortunately, it was an important play, but we’re moving on now.”
Moving forward, Tennessee’s starting quarterback against South Carolina this Saturday is in question. Maurer just suffered his second concussion in seven days, Guarantano is struggling mightily, and from all indications, JT Shrout isn’t ready just yet.
When asked about the coaching staff’s trust in Guarantano moving forward and whether that has changed since fall camp, Pruitt was quick to point out that they trust all of their players. Although Guarantano’s season has gone astray, Tennessee’s head ball coach still believes in him.
“I think he (Guarantano) has what it takes,” Pruitt said. “But I do think that he needs to be more consistent with the right intangibles so he can play at a little higher level. He knows that. We talked yesterday. You look at that game, there’s three or four times in the game, you’re talking about a guy standing in the pocket, making some throws, done a really nice job.
“I said after the Georgia game that he would help us win a game, or win some games, this year, and he did last week against Mississippi State. He’s a guy that’s going to continue to go to work. Me and him have a relationship. I’m going to coach him hard. I’m going to coach all of our players hard. But he’s a guy that I believe in, okay? And I still do. Haven’t wavered in that.”
Tennessee and South Carolina are scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. In an ideal world, Maurer will start for the Vols. But the true freshman wasn’t expected to practice on Monday, and the coaches won’t know more about his status until later in the week.
Pruitt was quick to say that the’ll see how practice goes this week in terms of who would start if Maurer can’t go. So Tennessee might not know until later this week who their starting QB will be for Saturday’s game.