Back QB is Key for Jeremy Pruitt’s Second Year

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QB is Key for Jeremy Pruitt’s Second Year

By Dave Holcomb
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Tennessee could be next in line for a major breakthrough during the second year of their new head coach, but that will only happen if the Volunteers can settle down their quarterback situation.

In the SEC, most football programs are expected to make significant improvements during a head coach’s second year. That’s what happened at Alabama under Nick Saban a decade ago, and the same occurred at Georgia a couple years ago with Saban disciple Kirby Smart at the helm.

With another branch from the Saban coaching tree, Jeremy Pruitt, the Tennessee Volunteers could be next in line for a major breakthrough during the second year of their new head coach. But that will only happen if the Volunteers can settle down their quarterback situation.

The expectation is for junior Jarrett Guarantano once again to be the starter, but he faces more competition than he did a year ago. The Volunteers possess high expectations for second-year signal caller J.T. Shrout, and 4-star quarterback Brian Maurer could be in the mix too.

Part of why the position remains unsettled is because Guarantano failed to really grab the job last season. While he did average 7.8 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions, Guarantano also had poor games against Alabama, Georgia and Vanderbilt.

There’s nothing to be ashamed about playing subpar versus those first two foes, but at Vanderbilt in the season finale, Guarantano completed just 44.8 percent of his passes for 139 yards with a touchdown and interception. It was an extremely disappointing way to end the season.

But the junior didn’t have just a bad final Saturday. Overall, he faded down the stretch, averaging just 6.4 yards per pass in the second half of the season.

Still, Guarantano is the front-runner to win the starting job again this fall. He’s proving that to be true in March.

“I think the game has really slowed down for Jarrett (Guarantano),” coach Pruitt said after practice Monday night according to 247Sports. “He’s taken a lot of hits. I think we all understand that doesn’t bother him.”

Pruitt added that the Volunteers offense “kicked the defense’s tail” in practice on Monday according to A to Z Sports Nashville. Considering how badly the Tennessee offense struggled last season, that might not bode well for the Volunteers defense, but it is a good sign the offense is showing signs of life.

Guarantano certainly has the most experience of any quarterbacks on the 2019 Tennessee roster. Again, the Volunteers hold Shrout and Maurer in high regard, but they have never thrown a pass in a college game. Both will need to show a lot this spring in order to change the depth chart.

It’s up to Guarantano to leave little doubt that he deserves to be the starter. If he can do that, Tennessee has a chance to assert themselves in the SEC East this fall.

Once again, Tennessee will somewhat face a murderous schedule late in September and early October with games at Florida and Alabama along with a matchup against Georgia in Knoxville in the span of five weeks. During that stretch, the Volunteers will also have a home game against Mississippi State and a bye week.

But the rest of the schedule shapes up well. Kentucky and Missouri aren’t expected to be as good this season, and Mississippi State could take a step back too with the loss of several key players on defense and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Vanderbilt and South Carolina are beatable opponents as well.

Even if Tennessee can’t slay any of its rivals, an 8-win season isn’t out of the question. But that’s only if the Volunteers get more production behind center.

While Tennessee has some other options, more than likely, that production will have to come from fourth-year quarterback Guarantano.