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Jeremy Pruitt breaks down Tennessee’s quarterback play against Florida

Three different players got time.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday against Florida, Tennessee’s quarterback position turned into a game of musical chairs. Jarrett Guarantano was unable to practice after landing in contact-tracing quarantine, which gave true freshman Harrison Bailey his first opportunity to start.

J.T. Shrout also saw significant playing time, while Brian Maurer played a handful of snaps at random times throughout the game. Guarantano did not play.

“I thought Harrison (Bailey) and J.T. Shrout both did pretty good jobs considering they hadn’t played a whole lot of ball and it’s a pretty good defense they’re playing against,” Jeremy Pruitt said after the game. “I thought they had some poise there, obviously with Harrison it being the first time that he’s played in a game like that all the way through. He probably held the ball too long a couple of times, but I thought he kept his poise, I thought he scrambled well, kept his eyes down the field. There were really a lot of positives there to see and I thought J.T. came in and did a really nice job too.”

The CBS broadcast mentioned an injury to Shrout midweek, which threw a bit of a wrench into Tennessee’s plans at quarterback for the week. Bailey ended up getting the nod, but Shrout entered the game in the second half and put a couple of nice looking drives together to put points on the board.

“J.T. really had two weeks of really good practice, and then on Wednesday, he was throwing a ball and then his shoulder popped,” Pruitt explained. “So, we didn’t really even know if he could play going into today, but he felt like he could. We had a plan to play both of the guys going in if J.T. could. We went with Harrison (Bailey) to start and were rocking along okay.”

Bailey manufactured a 96 yard touchdown drive in the first half, tossing the ball out to Eric Gray on a swing pass for his first touchdown pass of his career. Outside of that drive, it was a struggle for the true freshman. Jim Chaney played things close to the vest with him, easing him into his first real competitive action.

The former five-star prospect ended his day 14-21 for 111 yards and a touchdown.

“I know we didn’t create a ton of explosive plays, but we were kind of changing the momentum of the game there and then gave up a drive right before halftime,” Pruitt said. “As the game went in the second half, there were a couple plays that I thought maybe we could have been a little more aggressive on. J.T. is from an experience standpoint two years older than Harrison, so just getting him out there and going I thought he did a nice job at the end.”

Shrout looked really good in his limited reps, though he was probably playing against a softer defense late in the game. He put together two touchdown drives, attacking more aggressively down the field than Bailey and showing off a pretty live arm. The redshirt sophomore ended his day 12-14 for 121 yards and a touchdown.

Three years into his career, we’ve yet to see much significant playing time for Shrout, but he did provide a flash last season against South Carolina. Might we see more time for him next week against Vanderbilt?

Pruitt gave his standard answer when pressed about who will play at quarterback going forward.

“Every week – so you all will never have to ask me this again – every week we see who competes well in practice, who does the best job that we feel like affects the guys around him,” Pruitt said. “And we will do that as long as I’m the head football coach here at every position, so you don’t have to ask me again.”

So Tennessee’s quarterback room is as unsettled as it’s ever been, but a couple of young passers finally got significant playing time this weekend. That should continue against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, as they Volunteers try to build on something for 2021.