Jeremy Pruitt has been ridiculed for standing by his quarterback, and much of that criticism is fair, but by now I’ve understood why he felt the need to keep Jarrett Guarantano on with the first team unit to trot outside. Freshman Harrison Bailey had a tough preseason camp with so much missed time, and the lack of spring football due to COVID-19 essentially nullified his early enrollment in January. I wouldn’t recommend any of the sophomores either – Brian Maurer or J.. . T. . Shrout – carry out the offense.
Is this the quarterback situation Tennessee should face for the third time in a head coach tenure? No. But given this collection of imperfect options, I understood why Pruitt felt the need to stick with Guaranteeano. I’m not sure if this is the choice I would have made, but it wasn’t my choice and I understood the reasons why Pruitt did this.
The last in Guaranteeano’s long list of moments that kill the game – a 100-yard pick-six in the third quarter of Saturday’s 30:17 loss to Auburn in 23rd – has to be the last. Tennessee must stop putting the ball in their hands with games on the line.
If a quarterback puts your team in the best position to win, but then constantly sets the team on fire when it comes down to it, is that really the quarterback who gives your team the best chance of winning? How can this argument be made at this point?
At some point the car will hurtle off the cliff. It’s a when-not-if situation. At some point the car will drive off this cliff.
I take no pleasure in criticizing Guaranteeano. He takes his job seriously. He prepares hard, trains hard, learns hard, practices hard, and plays hard. He has the respect of the coaches and players and everyone else in this complex. It’s incredibly tough. He’s played with injuries that would have kept most quarterbacks on the sidelines.
But he falls apart at the worst of times. And when he comes apart, he really, really comes apart.
Tennessee followed 13:10 when it took the ball in the middle of the third quarter on Saturday night at The Plains. The Vols ran 7 yards, 8 yards, 9 yards, 5 yards, 21 yards, 7 yards, 4 yards, and 3 yards. Seven of their first eight games on that ride were runs, and those seven runs won a total of 66 yards. The only pass attempt to do justice to Guarantano was a well-thrown ball into the end zone that high-ranking receiver Josh Palmer should have caught. Palmer was well covered but the throw hit him right in the hands and we have seen Palmer make some tougher catches over the past few years. Even so, it was clear that Auburn Tennessee couldn’t keep Tennessee on the ground on this drive.
So, of course, Guaranteeano opted for an RPO game from the Auburn 12 yard line and tossed the ball to the right, Auburn defenseman Smoke Monday, who raced 100 yards to the end zone to give the Tigers their first two -Points leadership of the night.
But this is Tennessee, and that is exactly what Tennessee does. It ignites again and again in these moments. And Guaranteeano is always right in the middle.
Tennessee had nothing to do with losing this game by 13 points. To be honest, it should probably have won the game, especially given the fact that Tiger’s star who ran Tank Bigsby back suffered a hip injury early in the game and wasn’t a factor. The Vols had good schedules on either side of the ball. They outperformed Auburn with scrimmage – and by a considerable margin. They finished with more passing yards and more rushing yards than Auburn, and they were better than the Tigers in third and fourth places too.
But Tennessee threw another pick-six. And Tennessee missed two field goals. There’s your 13 point difference.
Throw in a kickoff return specialist slipping and falling into his own 8 yard line and poorly blown coverage that got Auburn a 54 yard giveaway for a touchdown, and voila, you have got a Tennessee soccer game.
Is it fair that there is so much on the quarterback? Perhaps. Maybe not. But that’s life. It is the most important position on the field and Tennessee continues to lose games as a direct result of catastrophic mistakes made in that position.
Change for the sake of change is not a good thing, and I can’t say for sure here that another quarterback would give Tennessee a better chance of winning games. But this has reached a point where we need to see evidence of it.
Tennessee’s offensive was outperformed by opposing defenses (21-14) in the second half of the last five games. Throw the two pick sixes in the Kentucky defeat in the second quarter, and it looks worse.
Saturday has to be the nadir, right? Correct? Tennessee had two consecutive trips into an opponent’s red zone, resulting in a net loss of seven points. The Vols hurried more than 100 meters in a quarter and were beaten 10-0 in those 15 minutes.
I know how hard Guaranteeano works. I know he’s talented too. He does some throws that most college quarterbacks can’t. But I can’t remember a player with bigger mistakes.
Who will benefit from continuing to trot out onto the field as Tennessee’s starting quarterback? Not him. Not his teammates. Not his trainers. Not Tennessee fans. As far as I can tell, nobody.
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Auburn Tigers Soccer, Tennessee Volunteers Soccer, American Football, Alabama Crimson Tide Soccer, Jeremy Pruitt, Southeastern Conference
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