Tennessee football: How Jarrett Guarantano offsets accuracy issues

Sep 26, 2020; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) looks to pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2020; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (2) looks to pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /

What the Tennessee football Volunteers quarterback does well is invaluable.

There’s a reason numbers and analytics have value. They help you break through what might be a distorted eye test on the field. In the case of Tennessee football quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, the gap was never more clear than last week’s 31-27 win at the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Watching Guarantano play in real time can drive you crazy. He’ll consistently miss easy throws, either throwing it behind guys, putting too much zip on short passes or overthrowing them. Last week, the Vols were one-for-11 on third downs because Guarantano missed on multiple passes.

But then if you look at the numbers, they tell a different story. Guarantano completed 19-of-31 passes for 259 yards, one touchdown and another rushing touchdown for a 74.8 QBR against a Will Muchamp-coached defense. Tennessee football didn’t commit any turnovers with him as quarterback either.

So what causes that gap? Well, it’s the illusion of how much his issues with accuracy can stand out on a few specific passes. However, what Guarantano lacks in accuracy, he makes up for in so many different ways.

Guarantano almost always throws it to the right guy, and at the South Carolina Gamecocks he did just that. Even in times he missed, he made the right decision. Jeremy Pruitt said that Guarantano made the right decision on all but about two snaps last week.

The most standout play here was on Tennessee football’s first touchdown drive. Jim Chaney called a flea flicker, but South Carolina snuffed it out. Guarantano was under pressure and had nowhere to go, so he dumped the ball off to Eric Gray, who gained 31 yards to bring up a 1st and goal at the one-yard line.

Gray would get credit for the impressive run there, and Guarantano just made an easy dump-off. But it’s tough to make the right decision when a trick play is read by the defense and you’re under pressure. Guarantano doing it so quickly shows hi experience.

That is a huge deal and one we shouldn’t overlook. Other quarterbacks on the roster may show more accuracy than Guarantano, but for every time they don’t overthrow a 3rd and short pass, they could make a risky pass into double coverage. An interception does the damage of about three overthrows.

Then you have to look at Guarantano’s ability to stand in the pocket and make throws while taking hits. This one is another eye test measurement that can’t be judged by numbers, but while he was sacked twice last week, nobody can deny that Guarantano is tough. He has a strong arm, and given his 6’4″ 230-pound frame, that arm strength isn’t affected when he’s hit as he throws.

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Such toughness is why he still gained 12 yards on five carries despite being sacked twice. He only fumbled once while being hit, and he made sure to recover the ball. Simply put, his toughness is valuable when you’re facing SEC defenses who love to bring pressure.

Finally, there’s the clutch gene. We already saw this from Guarantano last year, as he led four second-half comebacks during the Vols’ six-game winning streak to close the season. Well, South Carolina tied this game in the fourth quarter.

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On the very next drive, Guarantano completed both of his pass attempts, one for 32 yards to Brandon Johnson and one for 33 yards to Josh Palmer. The pass to Palmer was a perfectly thrown touchdown pass in the end zone. It put Tennessee football up 31-24, and that was the difference in the game.

Speaking of previous years, Guarantano’s decision-making ever since Jeremy Pruitt took over should be applauded, with the exception of going rogue on that goal-line play at the Alabama Crimson Tide last year. There’s a reason he has only thrown 11 interceptions during that time. He only threw three while starting the entire season in 2018.

Although he threw eight last year, he did have 16 touchdowns. We should also note that Chaney was his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. Learning a new system again, dealing with issues on the offensive line and struggling with accuracy should have been grounds for even more interceptions, but that didn’t happen.

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Accuracy will never be a strength of Guarantano’s. He’s not going to wow you with his precision, and in many cases he’ll frustrate you. However, he will mostly make the right decision for Tennessee football, which will help them avoid turnovers and often times find the right receiver. Combine that with his toughness and clutch gene, and there’s a reason UT relies on him.