Man. Saturday sucked.
Tennessee’s 34-7 beatdown at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats almost topped the 2019 Georgia State game as the worst loss in program history. The Vols were just flat-out dominated in Kentucky’s first win in Knoxville since 1984. No matter the year, Tennessee keeps finding ways to break records —and not the good ones.
The worst part about the loss is that it leaves the program in the exact same position it was a year ago. An underachieving record, questionable coaching decisions, and questions all over the roster currently have Tennessee in an unenviable spot with no clear direction as to how to get out of the mess it’s in.
But the biggest question of all —and one that has existed for the better since Josh Dobbs left the program— is what the hell is Tennessee going to do at the quarterback position?
Jarrett Guarantano is obviously not the answer. But are any of the quarterbacks on this roster? J.T. Shrout came in after Guarantano’s second pick-six against Kentucky and threw an interception on his first —and only— pass attempt of the game. Sophomore Brian Maurer showed promise in 2019, but inconsistency, injuries, and some off-field questions have held him back. Harrison Bailey is by far and away the most talented quarterback, but he is a true freshman who basically didn’t have any kind of offseason program and also missed practice time due to COVID-related complications.
Just about everyone who follows this program knows the Vols need some kind of change at quarterback. JG is simply too inconsistent for this team to take the needed steps forward.
But is Tennessee in a good enough spot to make a quarterback change? Especially when you consider the options?
It was easy to go ahead and start Maurer last year against Georgia. The Vols were in the midst of their worst season in program history after a 1-3 start that featured the loss to State, BYU, and a 34-3 trouncing by Florida. There wasn’t really any hope at that point in the season. The Vols were simply trying to win games, so, Jeremy Pruitt started Maurer in hopes of creating some kind of spark on offense.
This year is different. Tennessee entered 2020 on a six-game win streak and was expected to show major signs of progress. That win streak was extended to eight games —which tied for the best in the country— after the Vols won their first two games. Two games that were against SEC opponents, mind you. It’s not like they beat LA Tech and Florida Atlantic to start the season.
are were expected to compete this year. They are were expected to show that they are in fact growing under Pruitt and possibly even win a game or two that they’re not supposed to.
That’s not going to happen with Guarantano at quarterback. But can it happen with any of the other guys behind him?
Sure, there is a minute chance that one of the guys behind him can elevate the team, but odds are that won’t happen. Playing one of the younger guys will certainly cost the Vols games and may even put them below .500 this season, which would be considered a failure. There’s a reason that they can’t beat out Guarantano in practice.
One of the younger guys will ultimately be a game manager in this offense. Pruitt has even been on record stating how much is asked from Guarantano in terms of his role in the system. It would be a lot to ask of these guys —especially a Bailey— to come in and elevate this team.
But it’s clear that this team won’t survive with just a game manager. It’s not good enough. The offensive line has some major issues after a promising first two weeks, the defensive line has no push, the linebackers (outside of Henry To’o To’o and Deandre Johnson) aren’t reliable enough, and the secondary can’t guard the middle of the field to save its life. Running back and receiver are the only two positions with little to no questions, but those two positions are reliant on both offensive line play and quarterback play, which has been subpar at best over the last two weeks.
The Vols need someone at the quarterback position who can hide these deficiencies. The problem is that they don’t have that someone.
And this is why the Vols are stuck. They know they aren’t getting anywhere with Guarantano and they know they aren’t good enough to prop up his backups.
Maybe the staff just really doesn’t know what it has in Bailey or the other guys and are just too reluctant/stupid/not confident to play them. That’s certainly a possibility. But Shrout literally lasted one drive before was pulled in favor of Guarantano (which says enough) and Bailey looked just “meh” outside of his first completion. At the same time, however, this is one of the highest-paid coaching staffs in the country. So why the hell can’t they figure this out?
Pruitt has entered a very crucial point in his career. In fact, there may be more questions now than ever.
It’s up to him to find the answers before things really begin to nosedive. But there’s still one question that will forever linger until that moment: Can he find the answers to these problems?