KNOXVILLE – In speaking about Missouri’s quarterback situation on Monday, Jeremy Pruitt really was addressing how Tennessee’s saga behind center has unfolded.
“When you change quarterbacks, it definitely presents some issues,” the Vols coach said during his weekly press conference. “There’s very few teams that have multiple quarterbacks that can come in and run the offense.”
Missouri (5-5, 2-4 SEC), which hosts UT on Saturday, really doesn’t have quarterback issues, or any sort of a situation for that matter.
Despite suffering a knee injury in the Tigers’ fifth game, starter Kelly Bryant has missed just one game this season and that was against Georgia two weeks ago because of a hamstring injury.
Bryant’s backups – Taylor Powell and Connor Bazelak – have combined to appear in seven games but collectively have thrown only 60 passes, compared to Bryant’s 264 attempts.
Conversely, Jarrett Guarantano’s statistics befit a starter. Tennessee’s redshirt junior leads the team in passing attempts (169), yardage (1,402) and touchdown passes (13). But he hasn’t been the Vols starter since the fourth game, which was Sept. 21 against Florida.
Tennessee has been one of the few teams to utilize multiple quarterbacks and not suffer for the shuffling. Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout have combined for 10 appearances and five starts. True freshman Maurer has had four of the starts. They have 703 passing yards between them and three TD passes.
But Guarantano continues to be the man, even if he’s not the man at the start
His ability to maintain his role after suffering a fractured left hand against South Carolina on Oct. 26 and undergoing surgery has added to the improbability of this situation. As he said after helping direct UT’s 17-13 comeback victory at Kentucky on Nov. 9: “(The hand) hurts really bad right now but feels a lot better now that we’ve won.”
Pruitt said on Monday that he doesn’t think the injury to Guarantano’s non-throwing hand has been that debilitating for him.
“He’s been able to do everything probably except clap his hands to take the snap,” Pruitt said.
The plan this week, Pruitt said, will be to work all three quarterback and eventually narrow the focus to two of them.
“There’s a lot of emotion and anxiety that goes into the preparation and getting ready for a game,” Pruitt said last week, “and I think the fact that (Guarantano) has a little age on him and some maturity, he can handle coming off the bench. I think he can see and process and take some things that have happened previously in the game and take advantage of it.”
When asked last week what Guarantano needed to show to reclaim the starting job, Pruitt began by saying, “I guess the starting job is not as important to me as it is who is playing effectively, efficiently and who is giving us the best chance to win.”
Sooner or later on a given week, it turns out to be Guarantano.
In other news:
– After an off week, Pruitt said, “We’re probably as healthy as we’ve been in a long time.”
– Pruitt said defensive back Baylen Buchanan, who has been sidelined all season because of a condition related to his spine, will not play this season but will continue to “work in his rehab.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.