Tennessee football: Starting Harrison Bailey a no-brainer moving forward

Nov 21, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) drops back to pass against the Auburn Tigers during the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 21, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) drops back to pass against the Auburn Tigers during the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports /

At 2-5, the Tennessee football Volunteers should start the freshman quarterback moving forward.

It feels like we’ve been campaigning for freshman Harrison Bailey to get his first start as a Tennessee football quarterback for weeks now. However, with another COVID-related postponement and new opportunity approaching in the coming weeks, the first start for UT’s youngest quarterback doesn’t feel too far away.

Approaching Week 12 against the Auburn Tigers, UT’s starting signal caller was unknown until the game itself had begun. In fact, head coach Jeremy Pruitt refrained from announcing the starter prior to kick-off as a move to prevent Gus Malzahn from getting the upper hand.

While Pruitt was covering his tracks, Tennessee football’s social media team posted this video that featured Bailey twice. At the time, it was inclining many fans to believe he’d finally be getting his first start.


As we know, though, it wasn’t Bailey who jogged out with the Vols’ first-team offense. Senior Jarrett Guarantano started, finishing the day with 156 yards on 15 completions and a rushing touchdown. Guarantano was satisfactory until late in the third quarter when he threw a horrific red-zone interception that Auburn turned into six points of their own.

The Tigers expanded their lead to 10 points while the play was gone over with a fine-tooth comb to determine who was at fault. Analysts pointed out that Josh Palmer, Guarantano’s intended receiver, released to the inside rather than the outside shoulder of his defender, which may very well be true, but running the wrong route isn’t what landed the ball in the opposing team’s hands.

Guarantano took the snap from Brandon Kennedy and locked in on his target. He looked like a statue waiting for Palmer to shade inside, not once looking off any of the Tiger’s defensive backs. If you dare, take another look at the play and watch Guarantano focus-in on Palmer without noticing the lurking safety.


Auburn defensive back Smoke Monday, who intercepted Guarantano’s errant throw and ran 100 yards for a touchdown, even commented on Guarantano’s tendencies after the game. His comment was damning.

Yes, Jim Chaney’s predictable and uninspiring offensive play-calling has hurt this offense, and no, the TVA offensive line unit fans anticipated hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. Make no mistake, though, this interception was on No. 2 in orange and white.

It doesn’t matter how many plays he extends with his cleats. If your quarterback is making one mistake a game that’s as egregious as giving the other team six points, that can’t possibly be the team’s best chance at success every week.

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Why should Harrison Bailey start the next three games for Tennesee football?

For starters, the points people made for him not to start no longer hold up. The argument was that Guarantano’s past success on The Plains back in 2018 ultimately got him the start against Auburn. However, his career stats against the upcoming teams Tennessee football will face in December tell a different story.

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In Guarantano’s four years on Rocky Top, he’s seen action against the Vanderbilt Commodores three times and the Florida Gators twice. The Vols haven’t played the Texas A&M Aggies since 2016, when he was taking a redshirt.

Of the three appearances he’s made against Vanderbilt, he’s thrown a touchdown and an interception in every matchup. His best statistical performance came as a freshman with 183 yards on 14 completions, throwing two touchdowns and one interception in the 2017 loss at Neyland Stadium. Those numbers aren’t bad, even if he threw a pick in every game.

Guarantano’s stats against the Florida Gators, though, are down-right atrocious. He has thrown no touchdowns and two picks in both of his starts against them, throwing for over 150 yards just once as a sophomore. Against UT’s two tentative SEC East foes, he’s a combined 1-4, tossing four touchdowns and seven interceptions over his five outings against the Commodores and Gators.

No, these last three games aren’t the only contests that matter from the 2020 Tennessee football season, but let’s pretend they do. The Vols will have a better chance at winning one, two, or maybe even all three of their upcoming matchups with Bailey under center.

Next. Five takeaways from Vols' 30-17 loss at Auburn. dark

So far, the freshman has only been given time at the end of games with the score hanging out of reach above his head. He needs to be given the chance to win, or lose, a game by his own doing. Given Guarantano’s record against Tennessee football’s tentative schedule, it’s time for Pruitt and staff to give Bailey the keys to this offense.