RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
Between a flurry of lackluster officiating calls and a series which ended with redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano fumbling on the goal line on Saturday against No. 1 Alabama, Vol Nation has been given plenty of reasons to be mad recently.
And what do football fans do when they’re infuriated?
With freshman quarterback Brian Maurer’s health in question after repeated blows to the head and with redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout’s inexperience running a collegiate offense, Guarantano may have his number called upon yet again despite his recent inadequacy.
Given Guarantano’s recent track record, which includes a 7-for-16, 55 yard passing performance, and, of course, a fumble that was returned 100 yards to give Alabama its 35-13 lead, fans may have every incentive to boo the fourth-year junior quarterback should he play against South Carolina on Saturday.
Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt didn’t ask fans to refrain from booing. In fact, he expects to hear boos from the crowd — only he hopes they’ll be for the opposing team.
“I think when South Carolina comes on the field, (the fans) will probably be booing,” Pruitt said of Tennessee’s fans when meeting with the media after Wednesday’s practice. “I think when South Carolina has the ball, they’ll be loud, just like they have every game. And, you know, they’ll support our players and continue to do that.”
Pruitt was complimentary of Vol fans, noting that he has not seen passion of this kind anywhere else during his time as both a player and a coach. He also thinks UT’s fans trust him and his staff to make the right calls on who to play and who not to play in games.
“Well you know, here’s what I’ll say, just in my time here at the University of Tennessee as a coach, my time as a coach at other schools participating against the University of Tennessee, and as a player, you’re not going to find a more passionate fan base than the fans of the University of Tennessee. I have a hard time believing that,” Pruitt said. “When it comes down to game-time, everybody’s wanting to win, and I think [the fans] trust the fact that we’re gonna play the best players that give us the best chance to win and have success.”
For all the talk about Guarantano, there’s no guarantee he’ll be Tennessee’s starting quarterback on Saturday.
Pruitt has yet to name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s contest against the Gamecocks, but he noted that redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout will be ready to play and will likely be given an opportunity even if he doesn’t start.
“He’s excited, like anybody would be,” Pruitt said of Shrout. “J.T. is a really hard worker. He continues to develop, learning exactly how to play the position. I think coach (Chris) Weinke and coach (Jim) Chaney have done a nice job developing the young man. He continues to grow as a quarterback.
“We don’t see it because he hasn’t really had the opportunity to play that many games, but he’ll get an opportunity Saturday, and we’ll see where he’s at.”
Regardless of which Tennessee quarterback plays on Saturday, the fans in Neyland Stadium will almost certainly exemplify the passion that Pruitt described in Wednesday’s press conference. What remains to be seen is how — and to whom — that passion is directed.