Tennessee entered the 2020 season on one of the nation’s longest winning streaks and then extended that streak two games into the season with wins over South Carolina and Missouri.
Since the win over the Tigers back on Oct. 3, the Vols are 0-4 with Auburn, No. 6 Florida and No. 5 Texas A&M still on the schedule.
For many, Tennessee’s struggles can be pinpointed to the quarterback position where redshirt senior Jarrett Guarantano has started every game this season.
In a 24-13 loss to Arkansas two weeks ago, Guarantano went down with a head injury after being upended while trying to scamper for a first down. He left the game and didn’t return as sophomore quarterback Brian Maurer and freshman Harrison Bailey finished the game.
It may have been likely that either Maurer and Bailey would have started last week with Guarantano still out, but because the game against the Aggies was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Texas A&M program, it gave Guarantano time to return to health and possibly start against Auburn this Saturday.
“Jarrett (Guarantano) is back,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said following Wednesday’s practice. “I think he’s had a good couple of days here getting back into the groove, so to speak.
“I thought our whole offense can see him making some strides there which is good to see. There seems to be more confidence on that side of the ball in practice this week. I’ll be anxious to see them play on Saturday.”
During Pruitt’s weekly appearance on Vol Calls Wednesday night, he reiterated Guarantano’s status for Auburn and discussed how Guarantano’s absence last week helped with the development of the rest of the quarterback room.
“He (Guarantano) didn’t practice last week,” Pruitt said. “He started practicing again this week, but he should be ready to play in the game.
“You look at it, kind of like the young wide receivers, Harrison Bailey kind of fell into that same category, him and Brian (Maurer) both. Not many opportunities. The more opportunities they get, probably the more confidence they get. So it’s been good.”
With Guarantano back and more practice reps for Bailey and Maurer, Pruitt, as of Thursday, isn’t ready yet to name a starter.
“I’m going to wait and let that show itself on Saturday,” Pruitt said during the SEC Teleconference. “I don’t think it does us an advantage to tell Auburn who we’re going to play at quarterback.”
Tennessee kicks off against the Tigers on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 7 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on ESPN.