Tennessee football: WR Jimmy Holiday best QB option vs. Alabama

Madison Central quarterback Jimmy Holiday (1) looks to throw against Vicksburg at Warren Central High School in Vicksburg, Miss., on Friday, August 23, 2019.08 23 Mc Vicksburg 0695
Madison Central quarterback Jimmy Holiday (1) looks to throw against Vicksburg at Warren Central High School in Vicksburg, Miss., on Friday, August 23, 2019.08 23 Mc Vicksburg 0695 /

Against the Crimson Tide, the Tennessee football Volunteers’ best choice is a freshman wide receiver.

Debates have raged all week about what Tennessee football should do with its quarterback situation. Should the Vols stick with fifth-year senior Jarrett Guarantano, throw true freshman Harrison Bailey to the wolves or turn to J.T. Shrout or Brian Maurer, both of whom started multiple games for them last year?

What if the right answer was none of them? UT has a true freshman athlete on its roster who has made exactly one play all year. While he’s probably not the long-term answer at quarterback, he could be the answer for this specific game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.

We’re talking about athlete Jimmy Holiday, who currently plays wide receiver. A 6’0″ 203-pound three-star out of Mississippi in the Vols’ 2021 recruiting class, Holiday recovered the muffed punt that secured Tennessee football’s victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks. That’s his claim to fame at this point.

However, he was a dual-threat quarterback at Madison Central High School and from Flora, Miss. coming out. Given Nick Saban’s history at Alabama, nobody gives the Vols a better chance than Holiday, and nobody gives them a worse chance than Guarantano. Let’s look at why.

Saban has only lost 17 games at Alabama since the end of his first year. Of those 17 losses, 16 came against either dual-threat quarterbacks or quarterbacks starting their first game against the Tide. In fact nine of those losses, a majority, came against dual-threat quarterbacks starting their first game against Alabama.

Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel both failed to beat Alabama outside of their first start against them. The same holds true for Nick Marshall, Chad Kelly and Jarrett Stidham. Cam Newton, Trevor Knight and Cardale Jones only started against them once. Then there was that one time Brian Johnson and the Utah Utes shocked them.

The only drop-back pocket passer to beat Alabama after having already started a game against them was Bo Wallace of the Ole Miss Rebels back in 2014. Given the fact that Guarantano is a drop-back passer and has started against the Tide before, he’s got to be out.

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Maurer, meanwhile, started against Alabama last year. Sure, mobile quarterbacks who started against Saban before have beaten him, including Deshaun Watson, Jordan Jefferson and Stephen Garcia. It’s rare, though. Maurer is not as elite as Watson, he doesn’t have Steve Spurrier coaching him like Garcia did, and he’s not as athletic as Jefferson.

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Meanwhile, Shrout and Bailey are drop-back passers. Now, to be fair, Saban’s last three losses are to drop-back passers: Bo Nix, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence. However, Burrow is a Heisman winner, and Lawrence looks like a No. 1 draft pick. They could maybe hope to have Nix’s luck, but that was a major anomaly.

Jarrett Lee was the only other drop-back passer to start a game and beat Saban, but that was in 2011, when the LSU Tigers had one of the historically great defenses. Nobody thinks that about the Vols this year. We should note that Les Miles alternated Jefferson and Lee throughout the games in both their 2010 and 2011 wins over Alabama, causing a bit more confusion.

Simply put, if Tennessee football is going to have any chance at beating Alabama, a dual-threat in his first start against them is their best chance. This is where Kasim Hill would have been helpful, as he transferred from the Maryland Terrapins, sat out last year and was set to be in the rotation this year before transferring out.

Without him, though, Holiday is the best bet. And based on his recruiting profile, maybe he could do something. The guy did run a 4.38 40 in high school. With that speed, Pruitt and Jim Chaney could get creative.

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Now, after this game, Tennessee football has two weeks off. The Vols could spend that time finding their true starting quarterback going forward, as they’ll be better off long-term with one of the other four guys. But what do they have to lose against Alabama? They should throw Saban completely off and give Holiday the shot.