Football - and life in general - is filled with comeback stories.
You can basically throw a dart at any moment in time and find one. I mean, just go back to 2018 and look up Jalen Hurts at Alabama.
The same can be said for 2019. It’s not hard to find a good comeback story. In fact, the Vols have one of their own in Jarrett Guarantano.
Granted, it’s no coming off the bench to help your team win the SEC Championship, but it’s still a helluva comeback story for a quarterback and program trying to get back to its winning ways.
The redshirt junior hit rock bottom after the debacle against Alabama earlier in the year, but just had the best performance of his career to help the Vols achieve bowl status for the first time since 2016.
Guarantano has had his fair share of doubters since the 2017 Georgia Tech game, where he was visibly upset on the sidelines as the Vols’ offense struggled with Quinton Dormady on the field. He then helped quarterback his team to the worst season in program history and lost his first eight SEC games before beating Auburn in 2018.
But he improved - for the most part - as the 2018 season went on and many expected a decent-sized step forward in 2019 after Jeremy Pruitt hired Jim Chaney.
Those expectations faded as the Vols started off the season 1-4. It was clear that Guarantano had regressed and was holding the team back. Then everything hit a head when he fumbled the ball on the goal line in Tuscaloosa.
People were calling him a “rogue”, a “bad teammate”, and many never wanted to see him step on the football field ever again. He even received death threats at one point during the season.
None of that phased him, though. He continued to stand tall and take the beating - like he’s done for most of his career - and was there when his teammates needed him, no matter the circumstance(s).
And it all culminated with the best performance of his career and the biggest win for the Vols since the 2016 win over Florida.
Guarantano shredded the Missouri defense on Saturday night. He completed 23/41 passes (56.1%) for 415 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. It was the first time in program history that the Vols had three receivers with 100+ yards receiving in the same game. Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Josh Palmer all finished over the century mark.
It’s not like Missouri has a scrub secondary, either. The Tigers came into the game ranked as the 10th-most efficient pass defense, were tied for sixth in terms of passing yards allowed, and had given up just 11 passing touchdowns on the year.
They gave up just 6.01 yards per attempt and 11.77 yards per completion, which were good for 15th and 31st in the country. Guarantano averaged 10.1 yards per attempt and 18 yards per completion.
No interceptions puts the icing on the cake. This was clearly the best game of Guarantano’s career and it came at the best time. He knew that he was running out of time in Tennessee. He knew that something had to be done - and sooner rather than later.
“For me to be able to come out and start and get this opportunity again, I didn’t have any option but to come out here and try to play my best ball,” Guarantano said. “And it just felt good being able to start again.”
The decision to start Guarantano paid off for Pruitt and Chaney. A season-high 41 pass attempts also showed that the coaching staff has taken notice of the improvement in Guarantano’s play over the past few weeks, as well.
“We’ve got confidence in him,” Pruitt told reporters after the game. “He’s got everything you want to be a good QB. Tonight was by far and away his best game. He got the ball out of his hands, he got us in the right plays.”
Guarantano’s story doesn’t end here, though. He still has to beat a Vanderbilt team that he is currently winless against and then he has to finish the season with a strong bowl performance.
THAT would be the way to finish this year. THAT is the way to put your official stamp on a season.
Get it done, Jarrett.