Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI
After lackluster performances from redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt elected to hand the offense over to a true freshman signal caller. That freshman, Brian Maurer, has started two-straight games for the Vols at quarterback, but the jury is still out on what kind of future he can have in the orange and white.
In Maurer’s first start, he had a robust first half against No. 3 Georgia, completing a 73-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Callaway in the first quarter and finding Jauan Jennings for another score in the first half, giving UT a 14-10 lead over the Bulldogs.
But Georgia’s defense eventually adjusted, and Maurer was stymied from there on out. He finished the game 14-of-28 for 259 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble. Maurer didn’t finish the game at quarterback after taking a huge hit on a sack in the fourth quarter. That hit caused him to fumble, and Georgia scooped it up and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. Guarantano came in and finished out the contest after that.
In the freshman’s second start, Maurer didn’t get off to nearly as good of a start as he did against Georgia. Maurer threw two interceptions in the red zone against Mississippi State this past Saturday, and he was taken out after suffering a concussion when he landed on his head on a 13-yard run. Guarantano finished out the second quarter and played the entire second half in UT’s 20-10 victory.
Against Mississippi State, Maurer was 4-of-7 for 61 yards and two interceptions. He did add 41 rushing yards on three carries, though.
Despite some of the obvious negatives from his play, Maurer has flashed a lot of potential in his two starts this season. So what does that mean for his future at Tennessee?
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For Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, turning to a true freshman quarterback isn’t anything new. In fact, he’s helped coach several true and redshirt freshmen at the quarterback position throughout his long coaching career.
Starting back in 2005 at Purdue, Chaney coordinated the Boilermakers’ offense when redshirt freshman Curtis Painter was quarterback. Veteran Brandon Kirsch began the season as the starter and was Purdue’s starting QB for the first six games of the season. Painter took over for the final five games of the season, though, and he would secure the starting job as a sophomore the next year.
In his redshirt freshman campaign, Painter displayed play-making ability and a knack for picking up yards on the ground. In his first start against Wisconsin, Painter completed 23 of his 44 passes for 212 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions while running 11 times for 60 yards and a score in a 31-20 loss. He and the Boilermakers would lose the next game against Penn State, but he led Purdue to three-straight wins to end the season.
Painter finished his redshirt freshman season completing 89 of his 170 passes (52.4 percent) for 932 yards, three touchdowns, and five interceptions. He also added 251 rushing yards and four scores on 52 carries.
After leaving Purdue to coach in the NFL for a few seasons, Chaney came back to the college ranks at Tennessee in 2009. In the 2010 season, he again turned to a freshman quarterback to provide a spark to a struggling offense. And just like with Purdue, it ended up working.
After Matt Simms manned Tennessee’s offense for the first eight games of the season, Tennessee turned to true freshman Tyler Bray to try and salvage UT’s season. The Vols were 2-6 and on the verge of one of the worst seasons in school history.
Bray came in and immediately turned things around, tossing five touchdowns and 325 yards against Memphis on the road in his first career start. Those are still UT records for most touchdowns and passing yards in a first start by a true freshman.
The gunslinger would lead Tennessee to four-straight wins to end the regular season and threw for 300-plus yards in four of his five starts as a true freshman. Bray finished his 2010 season completing 125 of his 224 pass attempts (55.8 percent) for 1,849 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Those are all still school records for a true freshmen QB at Tennessee.
Next season, Bray suffered a thumb injury and had to sit out a large portion of the season. At one point, head coach Derek Dooley and Chaney turned to true freshman Justin Worley to try and get something out of UT’s offense. Worley’s first start was a mess, however, as he completed just 10 of his 26 passes for 105 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions against South Carolina. He would put up a better showing against MTSU, but his third start against Arkansas was more of the same as his first against the Gamecocks.
All in all, Worley finished 48-of-87 (55.2 percent) for 604 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions as a freshman in 2011.
Fast forward to Chaney’s time as Georgia’s offensive coordinator, and he coached a true freshman quarterback in at least come capacity every year he was with the Bulldogs.
In 2016, Chaney helped guide Jacob Eason through the SEC as a true freshman signal caller. Eason started the entire year and had an up-and-down freshman campaign, though he had more positives than negatives overall. Eason finished the year 204-of-370 (55.1 percent) for 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns, and eight interceptions while the Bulldogs went 7-5 in the regular season but gained momentum after a big bowl victory to finish 8-5 on the year.
Next year, Georgia again had a freshman run their offense. Instead of Eason starting at quarterback, Jake Fromm was tasked with manning the Bulldogs’ offense. From put together a stellar freshman season in 2017, leading Georgia to an SEC title and an appearance in the College Football Playoff Championship Game. Fromm only lost two games as Georgia’s starting QB as a true freshman.
Fromm was asked to be more of a game manager as a true freshman, though he was given more responsibility than most true freshmen. In his first year with the Bulldogs, Fromm completed 181 of his 291 passes (62.2 percent) for 2,615 yards, 24 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also added three rushing scores and totaled 79 yards on 55 carries.
In 2018, Chaney’s final year at Georgia, Fromm was the full-time starter at quarterback for the Bulldogs, but freshman Justin Fields played quite a bit as a change-of-pace quarterback who could run and throw both. Fields was promised playing time in the recruiting process, and the five-star was given some snaps in 12 of Georgia’s 14 games in 2018.
Fields finished his true freshman season 27-of-39 for 328 yards and four touchdowns. He ran the ball 42 times for 266 yards and four scores.
Right now, Maurer isn’t filling up the stat sheet quite like Tyler Bray or Jake Fromm did in their freshmen campaigns under Chaney, but he’s gotten off to a promising start so far. And with the exception of this Saturday’s contest with Alabama and a November date against Missouri, the Vols’ schedule lightens up in terms of the pass defenses Maurer will face.
Time will tell how Maurer’s first season at Tennessee goes, but it looks like he’s in good hands with Jim Chaney directing him.
Here’s a full breakdown of the freshman quarterbacks coached by Jim Chaney mentioned in this article:
- Curtis Painter, 2005 (Purdue) — 89-of-170 (52.4%), 932 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT; 52 carries, 251 yards, 4 TD
- Tyler Bray, 2010 (Tennessee) — 125-of-224 (55.8%), 1,849 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT
- Justin Worley, 2011 (Tennessee) — 48-of-87 (55.2%), 604 yards, TD, 3 INT
- Jacob Eason, 2016 (Georgia) — 204-of-370 (55.1%), 2,430 yards, 16 TD, 8 INT
- Jake Fromm, 2017 (Georgia) — 181-of-291 (62.2%), 2,615 yards, 24 TD, 7 INT; 55 carries, 79 yards, 3 TD
- Justin Fields, 2018 (Georgia) — 27-of-39 (69.2%), 328 yards, 4 TD; 42 carries, 266 yards, 4 TD