Tennessee took one on the chin on Saturday afternoon, losing to Kentucky in Neyland Stadium for the first time since 1984. The loss was powered by two pick sixes in the first half, which took a tie game at zero quickly to 14-0.
The Volunteers were threatening to score twice in the first half, but turnovers ended up flipping the scoreboard on its head. It’s an issue that has plagued Tennessee over the last two weeks, prompting plenty of questions about Jarrett Guarantano.
“I’ve talked about it a little bit in the past,” Pruitt began, speaking of Guarantano. “Obviously there’s three or four plays in a game that Jarrett would like to have back, right? We talked about them Saturday after the game. Same thing with JT.”
Guarantano tossed two interceptions, prompting Pruitt to send him to the bench. JT Shrout followed that up with a pick of his own, bringing Guarantano right back into the fold. Tennessee’s fifth-year senior is now credited with six turnovers in the last three halves of football, but that issue hasn’t shown up on the practice field, according to Pruitt.
“Jarrett’s thrown very few interceptions in practice,” Pruitt said. “He’s done a nice job taking care of the football, that’s why he’s been our starting quarterback. So, he’s got to eliminate those mistakes and we’ve got to do a better job up front, collectively as a group offensively, of protecting the quarterback, whoever that is.”
The Tennessee staff has consistently maintained that Guarantano gives them the best chance to win, citing a lack of practice time for the rest of their quarterbacks. His experience sets him apart, but the lack of results are frustrating.
That lack of practice time for others to develop is why Jeremy Pruitt is manufacturing scrimmages for his younger players on Sunday nights. Harrison Bailey was able to get all the reps in last week, something that may have led him to his first live action at the end of Saturday’s game.
“When you look at Brian (Maurer) and Harrison, both of these guys were very limited in fall camp, which is one of the reasons that we’ve continued to have scrimmages on Sunday night to kind of get these guys caught up, just to give them an opportunity,” Pruitt continued. “There’s nothing like live action, again, we had a scrimmage last night and both of these guys took reps. So we’ll continue to evaluation that position as the week goes.”
Pruitt keeps leaving the door open for a change at the position, but he’s not shutting Guarantano out of the race by any means. In fact, today, it was just the opposite.
“Jarrett didn’t play his best game the other night,” Pruitt said. “But there’s some other guys who didn’t play their best game too. So he’s gonna have to go out here and earn it at practice, just like everybody else. Am I wanting to put Jarrett Guarantano on the shelf? No. Absolutely not. I think the guy has a lot of really good qualities about him. He’s helped us win a lot of football games. Did he make a few mistakes Saturday? Sure he did, but I think everybody on our football team and in our organization could have done better, starting with me.”
It’s a tough spot for Pruitt, but an all too familiar one for him. He’s been tied to the hip of Guarantano since his arrival in Knoxville with mixed results to this point. As we saw on Saturday, Tennessee’s options are limited. They clearly believe Guarantano is the better option over Shrout, while Bailey and Maurer haven’t been able to practice enough to earn playing time.
If the staff is correct (they seem to be) that Guarantano is the best option to win now — that’s unacceptable at this point in the Pruitt era. It’s a situation that Pruitt is going to have to figure out quickly, or this season could easily spiral out of control.