This was supposed to be Jarrett Guarantano’s breakout season. Instead — somewhat shockingly — Guarantano has gone backwards. His offensive line has improved, the run game has improved, but the quarterback seems to have regressed.
Last Saturday in Gainesville was the latest example. After a solid start, Guarantano came unglued. An interception that appeared to be a miscommunication ended up being an early backbreaker for Tennessee, who didn’t show many signs of life after that moment.
That interception combined with Guarantano’s performance in key moments against BYU and Georgia State was enough for Jeremy Pruitt to make a move. Freshman quarterback Brian Maurer entered the game in The Swamp to start the third quarter, leading a Tennessee drive to points. That drive ended up being the only scoring drive of the day.
Maurer got off to a decent start, at the very least injecting energy into an offense that badly needed it. But the lack of experience showed from there. A couple of erratic throws and an interception of his own caused Pruitt to put Guarantano back into the game.
After a 1-3 start and a season that already seems lost, what’s Pruitt next move at the quarterback position? With a bye this week, the Tennessee staff at least has a couple of weeks to think about it.
“There are times where you kind of have to take the bull by the horns and say, let’s go,” Pruitt said after the game on Saturday. “Got to make some plays. You have to have an impact on the people around you. And that’s one of the things I’ve been talking to him about. You’ve been around those folks, whether it’s playing sports or in a room, whatever. Somebody has positive vibes that makes you feel good, gets excited about where you’re at and what you’re doing. We need a little bit of that.”
There are a couple of schools of thought here. One the one hand, what exactly do you have left to lose? You’re 1-3 and staring at Georgia and Alabama in the face. Jarrett Guarantano has proven unable to elevate those around him after having every opportunity to do so. Jeremy Pruitt has harped on missed opportunity after missed opportunity. Do you keep going down that road? Or try something new?
On the other hand, you’re 1-3 and staring Georgia and Alabama in the face. Do you really want to throw your freshman quarterback into that fire over the next few weeks? In these cases, you worry about hurting the confidence of a young player. It still remains to be seen just how much of the offense Maurer is comfortable with, too. There’s a reason he only got two pass attempts against Chattanooga. There’s a reason Pruitt waited so long to even attempt to try something different.
“It’s a production-based industry,” Pruitt said of the potential positional battle in Gainesville. “So who competes the best at practice, who plays the best the last game, you just kind of work on it and see.”
Will either move save the 2019 season? Almost certainly not. But with Maurer, you would at least add in another element by forcing defenses to account for his ability to run. The freshman looked raw, but the only way to remedy that is to get him some more playing time.
The former three-star recruit once thought he was headed to Ohio State. He ended up choosing Tennessee over West Virginia, but probably didn’t expect to be playing in his first season. Maurer now has a chance to start against the third-ranked team in the nation next week. All things considered, he probably should.