A lot rests on the shoulders of Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano this season. The redshirt junior quarterback has been through a lot in a short amount of time in Knoxville, including two head coaches and four offensive coordinators.
Perhaps even tougher, Guarantano has been operating behind one of the worst offensive lines in the country. He was sacked on over eight percent of his dropbacks last season which ranked 106th in the FBS in 2018. He was pressured on a staggering 39 percent of his passes.
Still, that underperforming offensive line didn’t keep Guarantano down in every category. According to ESPN, few quarterbacks were better on third down in 2018. David Hale even thinks Guarantano is ready for his breakout season.
Who had the better season?
Player A: 59.4% completions, 7.8 yards per pass, 3.4-1 TD-to-INT ratio, 35% conversions on third-down throws
Player B: 62.2% completions, 7.8 yards per pass, 4-1 TD-to-INT ratio, 41% conversions on third-down throws
Pretty close, but you’d probably give the nod to Player B, right? Well, once again, that’s Guarantano. The other player is Oregon’s Justin Herbert, widely considered one of the top QB prospects in college football.
Guarantano also had the lowest interception rate in the SEC, per Hale. I’d argue that some of that was due to conservative game-planning from Tyson Helton, but it’s still a notable statistic, considering the amount of pressure Guarantano was constantly under in 2018.
As we’ve said all offseason, Guarantano is a tough evaluation, simply because we haven’t seen play in a favorable environment yet. The frustrating part is that he’s got the playmakers around him, but the offensive line has been so bad that it hasn’t even really mattered.
Guarantano is now armed with a new offensive coordinator in Jim Chaney, who is tasked with making the conditions more favorable for the New Jersey native. Success has followed Chaney wherever he’s been, most recently with the development of Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. But Chaney’s track record spans much further than Athens.
“It’s tough sometimes,” Chaney said of Guarantano this offseason. “It’s not always a bed of roses out there for the quarterback spot. We encountered that when we got here before with Jonathan Crompton. There’s some similarities there that they’re both good football players, and I think Jarrett’s going to have a good season. He’s playing good football right now and he’s fun to be around.”
Crompton, of course, took a big leap forward in his lone season as a starter with Chaney. throwing for 27 touchdowns in 2009. Tennessee fans are hoping for similar results a decade later with Guarantano, who has thrown just 16 career touchdown passes to this point.
However, once again, this equation comes down to what’s in front of Jarrett. If the offensive line doesn’t improve, Guarantano’s numbers won’t improve either. With two five-star freshman tackles potentially starting, it may take a little time, but the talent level up front is definitely higher than it was in 2018. We’ll see if that pays dividends this fall.