Solving Tennessee football’s quarterback dilemma

Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) warms up before a game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.101720 Tenn Ky Pregame
Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) warms up before a game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.101720 Tenn Ky Pregame /

Who should the Tennessee football Volunteers and Jeremy Pruitt start at quarterback against the Crimson Tide?

A lot of things could have gone better for Tennessee football in their 34-7 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats last week, with no greater concern emerging than that for UT’s quarterback play. The unit as a whole turned the ball over four times in as many quarters, accounting for just 112 passing yards in the loss at Neyland Stadium.

Here we’ll take a look at each quarterback on the roster, analyze what they bring of value to UT’s offensive unit before ultimately concluding which signal-caller Jeremy Pruitt should send out on Saturday to face the Crimson Tide. Let’s take a look at who Pruitt is working with.

The options:

Brian Maurer, Sophomore

Though Brian Maurer hasn’t seen any action on the field in 2020, the former three-star recruit played in eight games for Tennessee football as a freshman and could play this upcoming Saturday. Of those eight games Maurer played in last year he started eight of them, including UT’s visit to Tuscaloosa in 2019.

In the past, Pruitt and Jim Chaney have gone with two quarterback rotations, which is unproductive but very well could be the case on Saturday. Despite being the only QB on this list that didn’t play last week, if the Vols go with two signal-callers Maurer could be one of them.

J.T. Shrout, Redshirt Sophomore

Unfortunately for J.T. Shrout, it feels in a lot of ways like he’s the odd man out in UT’s quarterback room. Underthrowing his only pass of the game and getting picked off last week, Shrout had no success against Kentucky. However, the play wasn’t entirely his fault.

It’s clear now that the coaching staff wanted an immediate momentum swing and turned to the biggest arm in their bullpen. At that point in the game, Tennessee football was only down 14 with another half still to play.

The play-calling probably should’ve featured three rushes and punting it into Kentucky’s zone. Either way, Shrout turned the ball over during his only drive and didn’t get called back to action after that, which tells you how confident the sideline is in his play.

Harrison Bailey, Freshman

By now you’ve heard of Harrison Bailey’s accolades as a gunslinger in Georgia’s Class 7A high school football conference. At the conclusion of his career at Marietta High School in Marietta, Ga., Bailey trailed only Jake Fromm, Trevor Lawrence, and Deshaun Watson on Georgia’s list of all-time passing leaders.

There’s a reason Bailey was a five-star recruit and the highest rated quarterback for UT in years. Needless to say, his first minutes in a Tennessee football uniform last week were highly anticipated and greatly appreciated.

Though he only saw action in one drive, and it’s worth noting the game was all but lost at this point late in the fourth quarter, Bailey completed a nice throw to fellow true freshman Malachi Wideman along the sideline for 24 yards. He’s a young player that’s garnered more hype than anyone else on UT’s roster and should see the field against Alabama.

Jarrett Guarantano, Redshirt Senior

After showing signs of improvement with decision making and accountability to start the 2020 season, Jarrett Guarantano completely unraveled against Kentucky. He threw two pick-sixes and fumbled on a designed run.

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That continued a trend of six turnovers through six quarters dating back to the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs. The former four-star and No. 1 ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation gave his team no chance to win against an inferior opponent last Saturday.

For a fifth-year senior that’s spent all five years in Knoxville, his functionality as a starting quarterback in the SEC is nowhere near where it should be. Guarantano’s mistakes over the last three years as a starter require no further explanation and no more second chances. It’s time for Pruitt and his staff to make a quarterback change on Rocky Top.

The verdict:

Harrison Bailey needs to take meaningful snaps this week, and the Crimson Tide offer the young quarterback a great opportunity to do so. Bailey would face an Alabama defense that gives up a somewhat shocking 309 passing yards per game, ranking their pass defense at No. 70 in the nation. If he has a poor outing it’ll get downplayed because his first start was against the No. 2 team in the country.

On the flip side, if he plays well it’s a great sign and a major confidence boost heading into the bye week. Equally relevant, the timing of this opportunity on the Vols’ schedule is fortuitous to if they were to start Bailey.

Vols stock report after Week 7. dark. Next

No matter the mistakes he makes, and there are bound to be a few, he can analyze them durinng Tennessee football’s bye and prepare himself for the Arkansas Razorbacks the next weekend. Win or lose, by the end of the game a page must be turned to a new culture on Rocky Top.