Tennessee has started three different quarterbacks this season. And, at times, all three have played well.
Normally, these circumstances would lead to a quarterback controversy on the team. But according to one of Tennessee’s three starting quarterbacks this season, there isn’t really a competition ongoing within the roster.
After the Vols’ 41-21 victory over South Carolina on Saturday, redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano met with the media to discuss his play and Tennessee’s win. Guarantano didn’t earn the start against the Gamecocks, but he played the majority of the snaps at quarterback, finishing 11-of-19 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman JT Shrout got the starting nod (even though wide receiver Jauan Jennings took the actual first snap at quarterback) and played well after a slow start, completing seven of his 11 pass attempts for 122 yards and a touchdown.
The change at quarterback against South Carolina was prompted because true freshman Brian Maurer was held out after taking blows to the head and neck in back-to-back weeks against Mississippi State and Alabama. Though he missed Saturday’s game against South Carolina, Maurer has shown plenty of promise in his three starts, enough so to still warrant starting down the stretch if he’s healthy.
So, is there a quarterback controversy in Knoxville? Not according to Guarantano.
“There’s no competition. Whoever gets the job done, whoever gets the team wins (is who will play),” Guarantano said after the game. “There’s no competition. We go out there and practice our behinds off, and whoever coach says he wants to start and whoever coach wants to put in the game, that’s all we’re really worried about.
“If the team wins, everybody’s happy.”
On Saturday, three different players took snaps at quarterback, and it led to the Vols’ best offensive output of the season. Tennessee racked up 485 yards of offense, including 351 yards through the air. Guarantano and Shrout combined to throw three touchdowns while never turning the ball over, and Jennings ran five times for 18 yards out of the wildcat formation.
Twice this season, Guarantano has come off the bench to help guide the Vols to victory over an SEC team. He filled in for Maurer after the freshman landed awkwardly on his head and neck on a 13-yard run in the second quarter against Mississippi State, and Guarantano finished 6-of-7 for 106 yards and a touchdown in UT’s 20-10 win that weekend.
Against South Carolina, Shrout got the “starting” nod, and he led the Vols’ offense on two drives before Guarantano took over. The redshirt junior would stay in as UT’s quarterback until he was speared on his 19-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings in the third quarter. Guarantano was shaken up on the play, and Shrout would come back in at QB for the rest of the game.
Once Shrout re-entered, he played more confidently and consistently.
Shrout and Jennings would swap quarterback duties a few times in the second half, but the redshirt freshman played most of the snaps. On his first drive back at QB, he connected with Marquez Callaway for a 55-yard touchdown to extend Tennessee’s lead to 31-21.
After a three-and-out thanks to Shrout pulling up just short of the first down marker on a six-yard run, the redshirt freshman helped lead UT’s offense to another field goal, pushing their lead to 34-21.
Overall, Shrout played within himself and minimized his mistakes. The result was good enough play to help Tennessee get the win.
While Guarantano was being tended to, he watched Shrout lead the offense in the third quarter. And he got a little excited when the young quarterback connected with Callaway on that deep pass.
“I was very joyful. Those guys are like my little brothers,” Guarantano said of watching the success of both Maurer and Shrout this season. “I said it at the beginning of the season that we’re going to need them. They work their tails off, and you see it throughout the season. They’ve played some good ball.
“Me and Brian were very happy for JT. I was in here watching it, and I think I banged the table a little too hard. But it was very exciting, and I’m very proud of the way he played tonight.”
Tennessee has now had all three scholarship quarterbacks make starts and play extensively this season. Shrout isn’t likely to garner discussion for the starting job moving forward, but Guarantano and Maurer have both made cases over the last few weeks as to why they should be charged with leading UT’s offense.
Maurer’s health may make this an easy decision for head coach Jeremy Pruitt, but even if he’s fully healthy, Guarantano isn’t worried about there being a competition at quarterback.
The 2019 season has been one full of highs and lows for Guarantano, but Saturday night against South Carolina was one of the peaks after the valley of the Alabama game the prior week. The redshirt junior has experienced plenty of criticism and plenty of negativity not only this season, but in the last three seasons he’s been on the field.
For Guarantano, though, getting a win and seeing his teammates happy helps wash away the bad moments.
“I was just very happy with these guys,” Guarantano said. “I love seeing smiles on their faces when they win, and that’s really the most important thing to me right now.”