The quarterback position in Knoxville in 2019 was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. It featured a few different faces, some highs, a lot of lows — and in general a whole lot of frustration for a few different reasons.
This was supposed to be Jarrett Guarantano’s year, according to several analysts and media members in the preseason. Very quickly, we learned that would not be the case. His struggles gave us an early introduction to Brian Maurer, then a brief one to JT Shrout.
Overall, it was a wild year under center that left everyone unsatisfied.
Whew, there was a lot going on here.
Jarrett Guarantano might just be the most frustrating player to ever come through Knoxville. Just when you’re ready to quit him, he sucks you back in with late game heroics, doing just enough to allow Tennessee to win. His 2019 season was the perfect representation of him.
Guarantano couldn’t make enough plays to keep up with Georgia State. The loss didn’t fall directly on his shoulders, but the bottom line was that the Tennessee offense couldn’t keep up with a Sun Belt team. He followed that up with a game-changing interception to open the second half against BYU, opening the door for the Cougars to win a game that they had no business winning.
After a dreadful first month, he was finally benched in the second half against Florida, starting the season-long game of musical chairs at the position. Jeremy Pruitt said Guarantano would be needed again to win games, and boy was he ever right.
Guarantano came off the bench after an injury to Brian Maurer to help Tennessee beat Mississippi State. He came off the bench again against Alabama — a game that turned out to be winnable for the Vols — but severely handicapped the offense. To make matters worse, he went rogue and called his own number on a quarterback sneak at the goal line. He fumbled, Alabama recovered and took it 100 yards to put the game out of reach.
Once again, just when everyone was out on the fourth-year junior, Guarantano started to light up South Carolina, only to get hurt. But from then on, it was clear what Tennessee’s best option was. Maurer’s concussions were the catalyst for his resurgence. Guarantano got his second (and third) chance and delivered down the stretch for the Volunteers.
After an unimpressive day against a good Kentucky defense, Guarantano exploded for 415 yards against Missouri. Most importantly in the final half of the season, Guarantano did just enough to keep Tennessee in the win column.
If you asked me what I thought of Jarrett Guarantano, I’d just tell you to watch the Gator Bowl again. The guy appeared clueless and inaccurate for three and a half quarters, then suddenly figures it all out and makes every correct decision in the final five minutes of the game to win.
So entering his senior season, what is Jarrett Guarantano? He’s a wildly inconsistent player who has seen it all, but isn’t going to ever put it all together. Tennessee is a quarterback away from being really competitive in 2020. It will be fascinating to see if Guarantano sticks around.
Play the ‘what-if’ game with me real quick. What happened if Brian Maurer doesn’t get flipped on his head against Mississippi State? What happens if he goes into Tuscaloosa fully healthy and gets four quarters? If you’ll remember that Alabama game, he was playing well, but was the victim of an early interception that bounced off of Jauan Jennings’ hands.
How many wins would Tennessee have right now if he plays all of the games down the stretch? The answer is probably less than eight, if we’re being honest.
Maurer was a shot of juice for the Tennessee offense. The man has never seen a throw that he’s scared of, no matter what the coverage looks like. It’s clear he offers more upside at the position, but the downside was certainly there too. Think back to that Mississippi State game. Maurer moved the ball great between the 20s, almost easily. But two redzone picks had the Bulldogs alive in a game that Tennessee was dominating.
But Maurer was exactly what Tennessee needed at the time. Guarantano was playing so conservatively, almost scared. The freshman started against Georgia, immediately gripping and ripping a deep shot touchdown pass to Marquez Callaway. Tennessee’s offense instantly looked different.
And guess what? When Guarantano got his second chance, he took a page out of Maurer’s book and started getting aggressive down the field. It seemed like Maurer woke up an offense that was asleep at the wheel, which, oddly, included Guarantano.
Maurer played sparingly down the stretch as Guarantano did just enough to keep him on the bench, for the most part. Going into his sophomore season, Maurer needs a little seasoning. He needs some more time in the offense and must learn when to dial it back a bit. With Harrison Bailey now officially in town, the dynamic between those two will be something to watch.
Talk about wanting to see more — all Shrout did was coming in and drop bombs on South Carolina. After Guarantano left with an injury, Shrout got his chance against the Gamecocks. Quite honestly, he looked the part. The redshirt freshman threw for 155 yards and a score on that day, which was our only extended look at him.
Shrout also played in mop up spots against Chattanooga and UAB, but nothing substantial.
The 6-3 passer has three seasons left heading into 2020. With Harrison Bailey arriving and Brian Maurer pretty clearly ahead of him, he’s got an uphill battle in Knoxville to ever become the starter.
It’s highly unlikely that Tennessee rolls into the 2020 season with Guarantano, Maurer, Shrout and Bailey on the roster. Maryland transfer Kasim Hill could also be in this picture.
Will Guarantano stick it out and finish his career in Knoxville? Can Maurer close the gap — or can Harrison Bailey jump both? This is all going to play out during spring practice. By now, you know how this position works in modern college football. The writing will be placed on the wall during the spring and everyone will adjust accordingly.
One thing is for sure. Tennessee has to get more out of this position in 2020. It’s as simple as that.