Jarrett Guarantano started the first four games of the Vols’ 2019 season, but he was benched after UT’s first bye week because of his erratic play. If you take out his three touchdown performance against FCS opponent UT-Chattanooga in Week 3, Guarantano had thrown just four touchdowns compared to four interceptions in Tennessee’s three games against FBS opponents.
After the Vols’ 34-3 loss to Florida on the road, head coach Jeremy Pruitt turned to true freshman quarterback Brian Maurer as the starter. Maurer would start the next three games for Tennessee until injuries ended up sidelining him for two weeks. In those two games, freshman JT Shrout got the start at quarterback, and Guarantano remained a “relief pitcher” of sorts. Maurer would come back and earn the start against Kentucky on the road two weeks ago, but Guarantano took over the reigns of the offense in the second half after Maurer struggled to pick up any rhythm.
On Saturday, Guarantano started for the first time since September, and he had a career day.
The redshirt junior completed 23 of his 40 pass attempts for a career-high 415 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in Tennessee’s 24-20 victory over Missouri. The win propelled the Vols to bowl eligibility, and it gave UT their fourth-straight victory on the season.
At any point this season, especially after being benched or after his disastrous fumble at the goal line against Alabama, Jarrett Guarantano could’ve given up, decided to transfer, or just been a bad teammate. But he did none of those things, and Maurer saw it firsthand.
Maurer himself could’ve been soured after losing his starting job to Guarantano despite playing well enough in his three starts earlier this season. But the true freshman didn’t let that bother him, and after Tennessee’s win against Missouri, Maurer took to Twitter to praise his upperclassman QB, saying no other player “deserves this more” than Guarantano.
I’m so happy for JG, no matter what situation has been thrown at him this season he has remained a team player, and there’s no one else who deserves this more than he does
that’s my brother forever ❤️ @BroadwayJay2
— Brian Maurer (@maurerera_2) November 24, 2019
Not only did Guarantano go through adversity on the field, but he dealt with a great deal off the field, too. But Maurer and his other teammates never gave up on him.
“There were so many guys that were there for me throughout death threats, the mean messages to my sister,” Guarantano told reporters after the game. “They were all there for me, and it really meant a lot. There were some hectic times for me, and they were there for me every step of the way, like I was there for them in the past.
“It really meant a lot for me, and I’m just hopefully able to pay them back the way I did tonight.”
Guarantano was one of the biggest reasons the Vols won on Saturday, along with the defense being able to make some key stops and UT’s receivers having a historic performance. Guarantano’s 415 yards through the air were distributed fairly evenly, and Tennessee’s trio of upperclassmen wideouts turned out a record-breaking performance because of it.
Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Josh Palmer all totaled over 100 yards receiving against Missouri. That marks the first time in school history that Tennessee has had three different players eclipse the 100-yard mark in the same game.
Saturday’s game marked Guarantano’s first start in two months, and though he had played a huge role off the bench in Tennessee’s last five games, being able to start and lead his team to a victory means even more to the fourth-year junior.
“For me to be able to come out and start and get this opportunity again, I didn’t have any option but to come out here and try to play my best ball,” Guarantano explained. “And it just felt good being able to start again.”
Now, he and Tennessee will be going to a bowl game.