You’ll be hard-pressed to find a player in college football who had a more up-and-down season in 2019 than Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
Guarantano’s redshirt junior season began with an embarrassing loss to Georgia State, followed by poor performances against BYU, Tennessee-Chattanooga and Florida. The 1-3 start led to a benching of Guarantano, as true freshman Brian Maurer started against Georgia in the fifth game of the year.
Maurer couldn’t hold on to the job, however, leaving the door open for Guarantano to enter in relief a week later and lead the Vols to a win over Mississippi State. Maurer started the following week against Alabama, but suffered a concussion and had to exit the game. Guarantano played within himself against the Crimson Tide, but his performance was marred by one play when he fumbled at the goal line on a quarterback sneak.
“Inconsistency” is how Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney summarized Guarantano’s 2019 season in a recent media availability. “Flashes of very talented arm talent and good plays, but inconsistency,” Chaney added.
“He would be the first to admit that,” Chaney said. “You’ve got to perform at that position with consistency, and I think that’s where Jarrett would say he needs to perform and get better at.”
Guaranatano bounced back from the debacle in Tuscaloosa by leading Tennessee to five straight wins over South Carolina, UAB, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Against Mizzou on the road, he threw for 415 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
But then in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, Guaranatano was benched following a poor first half performance. Maurer couldn’t get the offense on track, causing Jeremy Pruitt and Chaney to once again go back to Guarantano, who promptly led Tennessee to a 23-22 comeback win over Indiana.
“His actions spoke for the young man,” Chaney said. “That’s never been a questionable part with him. His competitive toughness has never been questioned. His resolve to be a starting, winning quarterback at Tennessee has never been questioned.
“It’s just going out on the field and performing on a high level consistently, and that’s what we’re going to try to get done this year with Jarrett.”
The 2019 season was Chaney’s first as offensive coordinator under Pruitt in Knoxville. For Guarantano, Chaney was Guarantano’s fourth coordinator in four years, and the third offensive system he’s had to learn.
2020, as a fifth-year senior, will be the first time in Guarantano’s collegiate career that he won’t have a new offensive coordinator. Chaney expects Guarantano to benefit from being in his system for a second-straight year “without any question.”
“That’s exactly the goal of every quarterback, is to get them to execute the offense the way we want to,” Chaney said. “There’s so much subjectivity that comes into the evaluations of quarterbacks. ‘He did this, he did that, he shouldn’t have done that.’ We try to eliminate that and get rid of the subjectivity, and we quantify as much as we possibly can on the practice field.
“Every ball that comes out of their hands, it’s either on-target or not, the decision’s either good or not, and that’s what goes into these things. We have a category that sometimes is not good (for) when we do something really stupid with the ball that puts our team at risk. So far, up to date, you can see that he’s demonstrating the importance of the ball and also understanding within our concepts. Those numbers continue to rise, and it’s our objective way of being able to see growth and development, and I feel real comfortable that he’s doing that right now.”
Chaney isn’t the only one who has seen progression in Guarantano’s performance through two weeks of fall camp. The head ball coach has as well.
“Jarrett has a really good feel for what we’re trying to get done offensively,” Pruitt said during his media availability on Friday. “Not only does he know what he’s supposed to do, he has a good understanding for every position on the field. He can coach the guys.
“He’s doing a nice job taking care of the football, working on his consistency, his footwork, decision-making. So he’s had six really good days.”
Guarantano’s first crack at proving he can be a consistent quarterback for the Vols will come on Sept. 26. Tennessee will kickoff its season with a trip to Columbia, South Carolina to take on Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks. UT will return home a week later to face Missouri.
“I’m pleased with him,” Chaney concluded. “I like the kid a lot. He wants to be at Tennessee, he’s a Tennessee Vol and he wants to win football games.”