The Tennessee offense sputtered when it counted on Saturday night in Columbia, but for the most part, they weren’t the problem against South Carolina. Tyson Helton put forth a gameplan that kept things short, trying to keep quarterback Jarrett Guarantano upright playing behind a banged up offensive line.
Guarantano, who was already banged up himself after taking shot after shot against Alabama, played well within the parameters of the offense against the Gamecocks. The numbers were far from eye-popping, but he put together an efficient 27 completions on 39 attempts, throwing for 207 yards and two scores.
Tennessee’s sophomore passer did his best work on third downs, leading the Vols to covert 11 of 16 attempts on the money down. Guarantano worked really well under pressure, finding ways to get the ball out and convert.
“I’ve said all along, Jarrett’s a tough guy,” Jeremy Pruitt said on Monday. “He made some really good throws and made some really good decisions. I think we played 73 offensive snaps and probably 65 of those he played extremely well. There were probably three throws that he would’ve liked to have had back. There were probably five decisions, whether it was a check or with protection or maybe starting on the wrong side of the field, that he was wrong on.”
After a week of hearing plenty of talk about Keller Chryst, Guarantano responded with a clean performance. As Pruitt noted on Monday, there’s a lot more that goes into the quarterback position than we see from afar.
“I thought he showed a lot of courage, played really hard and was a really good leader for our team,” Pruitt said. “We just need to fix those other plays, and he can do that. We ask him to do a lot of things, which, I think it helps our offense. He gets us in the right plays in the run game, we can make checks from run to pass, he can change protections. There’s a lot of demand on him and he can handle it. There’s just a few things that we got to fix from this past week.”
As for Chryst, Pruitt confirmed that he split reps with Guarantano last week, but Guarantano proved healthy enough to play during warmups Saturday night.
“We repped both guys and they actually took the same amount of reps this week. It was just going to be a game-time decision. One thing I never like to do is tell a kid something that I can’t follow through with, so the games that we’ve decided we’re going to play Keller, I’ve told him. Another part of that is that you don’t want the other guy looking over his shoulder, you want him to play with confidence.”
Jarrett certainly appeared confident, at least to me. You didn’t see the deep shots that we saw against Auburn, likely due to the state of the offensive line. Helton smartly opted to go with the short game, which worked pretty well overall. Josh Palmer actually missed one of the few opportunities he had to make a play deep, dropping an admittedly difficult ball down the field.
The offense was far from spectacular, but they did enough to win the game, as Pruitt noted on Saturday night. Unfortunately for that unit, the defense offered virtually no resistance in the second half. If you want to criticize something, that’s where your energy should be going.
Jarrett has come too far to give up meaningful reps in the final four games to a senior quarterback who has no future with the program past 2018.