Tennessee’s last time out on a football field was forgettable.
The Vols watched a 13-0 halftime lead turn into a 24-13 loss, with three different quarterbacks getting in the game to lead an offense that went stagnant in the second half.
Granted, the musical chairs of signal callers was caused by the fact that starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano went down with an injury in the third quarter, giving sophomore Brian Maurer and true freshman Harrison Bailey playing time in the fourth quarter.
Bailey didn’t enter the game until Tennessee’s last drive, and while the Vols got into the redzone, the promising drive ended on an interception that wiped out any threat of the Vols coming back.
There may have been an opportunity for Bailey to get his first collegiate start last week against No. 5 Texas A&M with Guarantano expected to miss time due to the head injury he sustained against Arkansas, but the unexpected bye week due to COVID-19 cases for the Aggies allowed Guarantano some time to heal.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Guarantano is a shoe-in to start for the Vols on the road at Auburn this weekend, especially if Bailey was as good in practice as Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said he has been in the past week.
“Just command,” Pruitt said when asked where Bailey improved the most during the open week. “When you are comfortable doing something, running an offense, whatever it is, you have confidence. Your peers can see it. You can’t fake confidence. It’s either natural or it’s not, and that’s not to take anything away from him, but the more you do something, the more comfortable you get at it and the better you feel and the more confident you are, and you can see that.
“The simplicity of communicating the calls all the way across the board. You’re talking about a young guy sitting here and you got to tell Trey Smith which guy he’s supposed to block on this run play right here. ‘The MIKE is 42 or whatever, we’re working 42.’ Just some of that. Nothing different that you see out of any freshman. It’s no different than Tamarion McDonald making all the calls in the secondary, or last year Henry To’o To’o when Daniel Bituli was out having to be kind of the quarterback of the defense. It’s something that the more you do it, the more you gain confidence in and everybody sees it.”
Pruitt’s words might come as a welcome sign for Vol fans, especially those who have been clamoring for the former five-star recruit to get more playing time after Tennessee’s offense has struggled since the second half of the Georgia loss.
As for Guarantano, Pruitt updated his status for Saturday on Monday as well.
“He practiced yesterday, but all of the other guys took a lot of reps over the last three practices,” Pruitt said. “We’ll see how the rest of the week goes here. I was really excited about how these other guys continued to work.
“I thought Jarrett had a good day yesterday. It seems to be a little more confidence offensively, especially with our younger guys having a better idea of how to execute at a higher level.”
Whoever lines up under center for the Vols on Saturday night will need to be sharp as Tennessee looks to avoid a fifth-straight loss.
The Vols and Tigers kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.