It’s been quite the season for Jarrett Guarantano.
The redshirt junior began the season as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, but following a loss to Georgia State that kick-started a 1-3 start to the season, he lost his starting job. Through the first four games, Guarantano was 60-of-93 throwing the football for a completion percentage of 64.5 percent. He had totaled 736 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions, but only four of those touchdowns came against FBS opponents.
After throwing just three interceptions in 12 games a season ago, Guarantano threw four in the first four games of 2019. Throw in the multiple wide receivers he missed streaking wide open, and Guarantano found himself on the bench for the Georgia game after Tennessee’s bye week.
It wasn’t until the Alabama game that the bad season hit the climax. In the fourth quarter, Tennessee was on the goal line of Bryant-Denny Stadium looking to cut it to a one-score game against the No. 1 team in the country when Guarantano called his own number and tried to pull off a quarterback sneak. It resulted in a fumble, and that fumble was recovered and returned 100 yards for a touchdown for the Crimson Tide.
Guarantano came back Sunday morning and apologized to not only his teammates, but the coaches for the mistake. It was a much-needed apology, as Brian Maurer was dealing with his second concussion in two weeks. The Vols still needed Guarantano for the upcoming game against South Carolina despite his struggles.
Though Jauan Jennings technically started at quarterback, and J.T. Shrout played the first two offensive drives of the game, Guarantano entered the game for the third possession and served as the Vols quarterback for the majority of the game.
“You know, Jarrett played his best game of the year,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said during an appearance on the Paul Finebaum show on Monday afternoon. “Going into the game, you know, I felt like Jarrett probably gave us the best opportunity to have success.”
Guarantano would throw for 229 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-19 passing, helping lead Tennessee to a 41-21 win over South Carolina. Most importantly, he had command of the offense, he didn’t miss open receivers, and he didn’t turn the football over.
The fourth-year junior connected with Jauan Jennings for two touchdowns in the offensive outburst. The first touchdown to Jennings went for 48 yards, while the second score went for 19 yards. It was the second touchdown toss in the back of the end zone that caught the eye of Pruitt, however.
“The throw that he made to Jauan Jennings in the end zone; he made great checks, slid the protection,” Pruitt explained. “We didn’t have enough to block him, he drifted away from the protection to buy himself some time, stood in the pocket, delivered the ball, and it was as good of a pass as you’ll see.
“That’s the Jarrett that I had seen in practice most of the year, and it’s good that it showed up.”
Guarantano’s performance helped Tennessee pass for a season-high 351 passing yards, as well as totaling a season-high 485 yards of offense.
“He really did a nice job, made some really good throws, handled the run game, handled the team — it was good to see,” Pruitt said. “And now he needs to build off of it and do it again. Have to have the same prep this week and get ready to do it again.”
Despite the newfound energy and success on the field, questions still surround Guarantano. Except it’s not performance-based this time; instead, those questions are about whether or not he’ll be available to play against UAB this Saturday.
Guarantano had to exit in the third quarter against the Gamecocks due to a left wrist injury he suffered on the second touchdown toss to Jennings. Pruitt announced during his post-game interview that Guarantano had broken a bone in his left wrist and that he would have surgery on Sunday.
A day following the surgery, Pruitt brushed the injury off as if it would not prevent Guarantano from playing against the Blazers.
“I just saw him up there watching film,” Pruitt said. “I’m sure he’ll be limited for a day or two here. He has to take some mental reps, and he’ll do that; he’s in here watching film. He’ll be ready to go unless something happens that I don’t know about.”
Tennessee will kick-off Homecoming with UAB at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU.