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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.
“I hope it rains cats and chickens Saturday! Is the coaching staff hoping for rain as well?” – @BuckToTheNasty1
Nathanael: You know, I don’t think so. South Carolina just got done playing a game last weekend against Florida where it was raining pretty much the whole game. As far as I can remember, I don’t know that UT has played in much inclement weather this season. If you have a redshirt freshman making his first start at QB in this game, having him have to throw a wet ball with all the nerves going on with his first start probably isn’t very ideal. Throw that in with the fact that the Gamecocks are just coming off a game where it rained and have more experience with how to deal with that, I don’t know that the coaches should be hoping for messy weather.
Ben: That’s a great question, Buck Nasty. And I don’t really know which side I’m on. I don’t really think the coaches will care if it’s raining because regardless of who plays quarterback, the running game will be relied on heavily whether it rains or not. I guess the coaches would prefer it does rain in hopes that it slows down Ryan Hilinski through the air. That way, they can key in on stopping South Carolina’s rushing attack.
“Would it be worth putting Jennings at QB knowing that it takes away your #1 receiver?” – @nposey23
Nathanael: Not unless you do what you did last week against Alabama and have him come in near the goal line. Tennessee has had awful luck throwing the ball inside the 10, so bringing Jennings in to run the wildcat there makes sense. Otherwise, I don’t think it makes sense to take him off the field as a receiver to throw it, not without a quarterback like Josh Dobbs as a potential pass catching threat.
“Has JG had a recent eye exam? It fixed Ricky Vaughn.” – Michael
Nathanael: I see what you’re getting at, Michael. But unfortunately for Guarantano, an eye exam and getting new glasses won’t fix the issues he’s had this season.
Guarantano has missed a ton of throws, but more than anything, his decision-making has been suspect this season. Glasses won’t fix that. I do think Ben makes a good point below about Guarantano’s mental health, though, and I agree with his sentiment there.
Ben: Jarrett Guarantano doesn’t need an eye exam. He needs to meet with a therapist. I say that with all due respect. As a person, it’s hard not to worry about Guarantano’s mental state with the way the season has unfolded. I’m not at all trying to say something is wrong with him, but every single person on the planet would benefit from talking to someone about what’s going on in their life. It’s good for the soul. I know most won’t care because they only care about Guarantano the football player, but from a human standpoint, I hope he’s doing well.
“At this point why has JG decided to stay the rest of the year? It’s painfully obvious it’s not gonna work out. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to end this toxic relationship and have a clean break?” – Sam
Nathanael: Because Tennessee still needs him this season. I don’t think it’s really as toxic or “cancerous” in the locker room with him as some might think. By all accounts, he’s still been a good teammate and has done a good job talking with the two younger quarterbacks and helping them learn. But the big reason I don’t think he needs to leave just yet is because the Vols will still likely need him, and he sees that. Maurer can’t stay on the field, and who knows what kind of player Shrout is going to be. If he gets hurt too or plays really poorly, Guarantano knows there’s still an opportunity there.
Guarantano staying and performing amidst adversity will look good to another head coach at another school if/when he decides to move on to another program this offseason. I don’t think he’ll transfer before this season ends, but I would be shocked if he doesn’t transfer once it’s over.
Ben: Because if Brian Maurer continues to get hurt, Tennessee needs Jarrett Guarantano and Jarrett Guarantano needs Tennessee. I’d be stunned if Guarantano doesn’t move on at the end of the season, but in the meantime, the two sides need each other. Without Maurer, Guarantano probably gives Tennessee the best chance to win. Without fighting through the rest of the season, Guarantano could struggle to find a new home after the season.
“How effective is peer recruiting in general? With the Whitehaven trio, it was extremely effective. But with Bailey/Ojulari to Arik Gilbert it was a lost cause.” – Robert
Nathanael: I think peer recruiting gets overblown a bit, but it varies case by case. As you pointed out, it was big with the Whitehaven trio, and it was important to them because they’ve known each other since they were six and have talked about playing with each other for years. For Gilbert, he has his pick of the litter in terms of teams, so he doesn’t need to tie himself to where any of his teammates go. That’s not to say any of the Whitehaven recruits couldn’t have done the same, but it was simply just more important to them.
Simply put, I think it just depends on how important it is for each recruit. I don’t know that there’s a wide blanket statement I can cast on this one.
Ben: It doesn’t necessarily sway a young man, but it does help. It really just depends on the particular players and the particular situation. Your examples were perfect. For the Whitehaven trio, it was important they play together. For Arik Gilbert, it wasn’t important to him that he play with Harrison Bailey and BJ Ojulari.
“Any chance we get some highly rated receivers?” – @pendbk1968
Nathanael: First of all, I’d argue that four-star wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, who is committed to Tennessee, is a big-time WR prospect. He doesn’t have as high of a rating just yet, but that kid has the potential to be an instant impact type of player.
To answer your question: Yes, but only if Tennessee can actually win some more games and prove that they know how to get the ball to their receivers. I think what Brian Maurer has done has helped the Vols with receivers like four-star Alabama commit Thaiu Jones-Bell (who is taking a visit to Knoxville this weekend). Plus, you can also sell Harrison Bailey coming in. But Tennessee has to win a few more games this season to even make any of that a possibility.
Ben: It’s not looking like it. Tennessee had a strong chance of landing Rakim Jarrett and Arik Gilbert over the course of the summer, but because of the 1-4 start to the season that included a loss to Georgia State, the Vols lost steam with those two. Tennessee is going to have to win with good recruits before they start landing elite recruits.
“What are the Vols remaining 2020 recruiting priorities for football? LB looks set.” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: I don’t think linebacker is necessarily set. I think UT would like to take at least one more linebacker if they can, and there are a few options out there for them at either outside or inside linebacker to consider. The biggest remaining needs, though, are getting some defensive linemen and adding a couple more receivers. Those are the top priorities at the moment, as well as trying to find a second running back and getting one tight end.
Ben: A lot of the key priorities remaining fall on the defensive side of the ball. The first three that come to mind are four-star tackle Omari Thomas, four-star defensive end Tyler Baron, and four-star defensive lineman Jay Hardy. Tennessee’s chances of landing Baron and Hardy look good, and the momentum continues to increase with Thomas, who is listed as an offensive tackle, but is being recruited by the Vols to play defensive tackle. Those three are at the very top of the board at the moment.