It took about 30 minutes of game play for Tennessee’s quarterback battle to be settled, if you ask most fans. True freshman Brian Maurer delivered a strike to Marquez Callaway to tie the third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, igniting Neyland Stadium for the next hour or so.
Maurer backed that throw up with a beatiful drive right down the field, leading the Volunteers to a 14-10 lead over Georgia. Of course, that lead didn’t last. Georgia’s talent took over from there as the Bulldogs clamped down a dominated on both sides of the ball from there.
But at least for a few moments, Tennessee fans had something to be excited about. The Brian Maurer era is off and running.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt wouldn’t commit to starting Maurer next week against Mississippi State, citing a need to watch the film. On Monday after that film review, Pruitt essentially conceded that it was Maurer’s spot to lose, to no one’s surprise.
“I mean, I think he’d really have to have a bad week of practice not to (start),” Pruitt told reporters on Monday. “But we’ll see how the week goes.”
Maurer finished 14-28 for 259 yards and two scores against Georgia. His confidence was evident, providing Tennessee with a big upgrade from the shortcomings of Jarrett Guarantano.
The freshman passer didn’t look like your average freshman during the first half. The ball was coming out quickly and Maurer seemed to make quite a few correct reads. Georgia’s defense finally started getting pressure on him in the second half, forcing an interception and a fumble from Maurer late.
“I thought he had really good energy, done some nice things, especially early on,” Pruitt said. “Made some really, really nice throws, got the ball out of his hand. But he also made some mistakes too, right? In the second half, a couple times he worked the wrong side of the ball. Made probably a poor decision when he threw the interception down there.
“There’s way more positives than there were negatives,” Pruitt continued. “But he’s got to learn from them and not make the same mistakes again. But he did step in there and make some nice throws, and I thought our kids rallied around him pretty good there.”
The boost in energy was undeniable. For the first time all year, Tennessee had some juice to them — Neyland was rocking in that first quarter. Even the defense was flying around and making plays. If only for a few minutes, you saw a glimpse of an ultra-competitive team ready to play with anybody.
Eventually, depth and talent won out for Georgia. Once that ball started rolling, Tennessee just didn’t have the athletes to counter. But at least now, you’ve got a renewed interest in spending three hours of your Saturday tuning in to watch a 1-4 football team.
Maurer’s development now becomes the No. 1 story to follow for the rest of this season. Tennessee probably still isn’t good enough to rip off enough wins to head to go bowling, but they’re coming up on a stretch of games where they could at least make some noise.
For the sake of recruiting, let’s hope the Volunteers can get that arrow pointed in the right direction by November.