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Quarterback play is crippling the Tennessee rebuild

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If you’re only as good as your quarterback.... Tennessee is in trouble.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 BYU at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Throughout Tennessee’s game against BYU, one thing became painfully obvious. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had no confidence in quarterback Jarrett Guarantano in the second half. Chaney hid Guarantano for most of the second half as the Vols tried to cling to their lead that they built up in the first half.

Guarantano let the Cougars back in the game to open the second half, tossing an interception into triple coverage. BYU quickly punched into the endzone a few plays later, climbing right back into contention.

From that point on, Chaney went into an ultra-conservative gameplan — but who could blame him? The problem wasn’t just the threat of interceptions. It was also about missing throws that were open.

“I just saw two right before the half,” Jeremy Pruitt said of Guarantano’s missed throws. “I knew exactly what the play was called and where it was going. I thought we had chances to stick the ball. We got a field goal out of it. I think there was a chance there to hit two of them. But we’ll see. We’ll see on tape.”

Guarantano missed Jauan Jennings in the endzone right before halftime — a score that would have put Tennessee up 17-3 at the time. The throw was open, but Guarantano found Jennings late, allowing the safety to come break up the pass. As it turns out, that moment ended up costing the Volunteers the game.

Tennessee missed another opportunity in the second half to score a touchdown. Guarantano missed Jennings on an out route at the goal line — another ball that could have been picked off and might have gone for six points.

Luckily for the Vols, the running game was working last night. Tennessee was able to ride Ty Chandler and Eric Gray behind an offensive line that consistently won at the line of scrimmage. That allowed Tennessee to build and keep a lead, but Guarantano wasn’t able to make the plays needed to put the game on ice. If those throws were made, a 70 yard pass at the end of regulation would have been irrelevant. Tennessee should have never been in that position in the first place after controlling the entire game.

When will Tennessee emerge from the pit of despair? The second they find an answer at quarterback. Through three seasons now, Guarantano has proven that he isn’t that guy. Problem is, there’s not much behind him right now.

Redshirt freshman JT Shrout and true freshman Brian Maurer likely aren’t ready to challenge for a starting spot right now. With a game coming up next week against Chattanooga though, Jeremy Pruitt would be crazy not to get both guys a few drives.

Sitting at 0-2, what you’ve been doing isn’t working. Hiding your quarterback isn’t going to work in SEC play — especially against stronger fronts that are going to be able to shut down the rushing attack.

It’s time to figure out what you’ve got behind Guarantano, even if it isn’t pretty next week. Because what exactly does Tennessee have left to lose?