Tennessee football enters 2019 with a junior quarterback and new offensive coordinator. This makes the Volunteers season very similar to 2006.
When 2006 arrived for Tennessee football, the Vols were coming off their first losing season in 17 years. It marked the end of an elite run. To fix the issue, Phillip Fulmer replaced offensive coordinator Randy Sanders with a guy who used to be a UT coordinator, David Cutcliffe.
The situation can be similar this year. The Vols enter 2019 coming off another losing season. Jeremy Pruitt, meanwhile, has also brought back a former UT offensive coordinator to resume that role in Jim Chaney, and he will replace Tyson Helton.
Then there are the quarterbacks. Jarrett Guarantano is entering his redshirt junior year after spending the last two seasons having to compete for the starting job, first with Quinten Dormady and then with Keller Chryst.
Well, that held true for Erik Ainge in 2006 as well. He was entering his junior season after having to compete with Brent Schaeffer in 2004 and Rick Clausen in 2005 for the starting job. Finally, the Vols were coming off a historically bad offense in 2006. They are coming off a historically bad offense this year as well.
So with all of these similarities, where does that leave the Vols for 2019? Well, the lack of pressure from a competitor at quarterback and the return of Cutcliffe completely turned around Ainge’s play. He set a UT record for completion percentage in a season and helped Robert Meachem set a record for receiving yards in a season.
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By the way, Meachem brings in another similarity. UT was loaded with veteran receivers in 2006 in Meachem as the go-to guy but also Jayson Swain and Bret Smith. This year, the Vols have a deep collection of guys with Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer.
Taking all of this into account, the hope for Tennessee football is that Guarantano can mirror what Ainge did in 2005. Ainge’s offensive line was bad that year, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as what Guarantano had to work with this past year. So the improvement will come down to that.
However, numerous similarities remain outside of that. And if the Vols can take the leap in 2019 that they did in 2006, they’ll be in great shape. That would be exactly the type of momentum Jeremy Pruitt needs to build up his program for the future.
While 2005 marked the end of a great run for Tennessee football, Pruitt is hoping that 2018 marked the end of a downward spiral on Rocky Top that really dates back to 2008. All these other factors coming in to change things may just help shift the program once again.