I’ve got to be honest here — I wasn’t prepared for the amount of praise that Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano received this offseason. At this point, he’s become a bit of an analytics darling, with several different analysts pumping him up ahead of the 2019 season.
Guarantano threw a measly 12 touchdowns while throwing for just over 1,900 yards in 2018. That’s not exactly a stat line that’s going to get you a ton of love in today’s era of football. However, anyone that watched Tennessee last season will tell you that the conditions around Guarantano weren’t exactly favorable.
Bill Connelly, who moved from SBNation to ESPN this offseason, is the latest to ask people to look deeper at the Vols’ passer. He first pointed to Tennessee’s lack of rushing success.
Not even including sacks, 32.6% of Tennessee’s rushes were stuffed at or behind the line, worst in FBS. Only 41% of the carries gained at least 4 yards (119th). The Vols ran the ball constantly (and predictably) on early downs -- their run rate was 64% on standard downs, nearly 5 percentage points higher than the national average -- and all it produced were lots of second-and-11s and heavy pass rushes when Guarantano was looking to make up ground.
Connelly follows that by showing Guarantano’s effectiveness on third down — when he had time to operate within the pocket.
When he had time to pass, though, he did well. His passer rating was 152.0 on second downs and 150.4 on third downs with between 4 and 9 yards to go.
Guarantano has been praised for his lack of turnovers, but most would agree that he played in an ultra conservative scheme last season under Tyson Helton. Tennessee wanted to play ball-control offense, while minimizing mistakes. That plan was usually foiled every Saturday afternoon by the lack of a consistent push up front by the offensive line. As Connelly has already pointed out, that put Guarantano in pressure-cooker third down situations.
Now in 2019, with a new (and very expensive) offensive coordinator in Jim Chaney, maybe Tennessee can put themselves in better positions to succeed. As we’ve said for two seasons now, Tennessee has really talented skill position players. It’s just up to Guarantano and offensive line to let them succeed.
We’ve also seen Chaney succeed in a few different ways, even going back to his days under Derek Dooley at Tennessee. Chaney won with the rushing attack at Georgia, but he found success in the passing game back in 2012 with Tyler Bray and Tennessee.
Might he do that again with Guarantano?
New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is one of the better coaches in America when it comes to crafting a system around the standout talent he has at his disposal. Sometimes that means a run-heavy approach, and sometimes it means a lot of passing. With Guarantano and almost his entire receiving corps back (including a hell of a wideout trio in Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings and Josh Palmer), I’m guessing Chaney leans toward the latter.
However you feel about Jarrett, it’s his time to shine in 2019. This is the best supporting cast that he’s had around him by a good margin. The only question that remains is this young offensive line. How good will these two five-star freshmen tackles be to start the season? How much will they develop throughout the season? Will Trey Smith be able to play — and if so, will he look like himself?
Hopefully we get our chance to fairly evaluate Guarantano this fall. Because quite honestly, the conditions just haven’t been good enough for him to succeed yet.