1. Jarrett Guarantano’s mental toughness
Yes, this game will come down to Jarrett Guarantano. For the first time since he became Tennessee football’s starting quarterback in 2017, he began to hear loud, legitimate criticism after last week’s loss to the BYU Cougars.
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Guarantano made some mistakes against the Georgia State Panthers. After all, he did have a fumble and throw an interception while he should have thrown another one. And he missed lots of open guys. But he still had 311 passing yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the horrible defensive play and the few protection issues that arose were all bigger issues.
Against the BYU Cougars, though, nobody was more responsible for that loss than Guarantano. His one touchdown pass in regulation was off a tipped pass on fourth down that should have been intercepted. He did throw an interception into triple-coverage to set up BYU’s one touchdown. And he too often missed wide open guys or was late getting there.
One key play was on what should have been a touchdown pass that Jauan Jennings dropped, but he dropped it because the throw was too late and he was hit in the end zone. If Guarantano makes all the right reads, the Vols would have been up 23-6 instead of 16-14 when BYU had the ball on that final drive.
So the question becomes this: how does Guarantano handle the criticism? If he folds, Tennessee football is in trouble. But if he responds by turning things around, then the Vols will torch the Chattanooga Mocs. It all comes down to him, as he now has pressure to perform with all the criticism against him.