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Jeremy Pruitt offers assessment of Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee football's QB situation

The Knoxville News-Sentinel logoThe Knoxville News-Sentinel 11/23/2020 Blake Toppmeyer, Knoxville News Sentinel
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Jeremy Pruitt on Monday praised quarterback Jarrett Guarantano for portions of his performance against Auburn on Saturday, but Tennessee's coach added that Guarantano’s costly third-quarter interception “can’t happen.”

Guarantano’s blunders have had a hand in Tennessee’s five-game losing streak, which the Vols (2-5) will aim to end against Vanderbilt (0-7) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network-Alternate) in Nashville. The fifth-year senior has started every game this season.

Pruitt didn’t offer an indication as to who would start against the Commodores.

Auburn beat Tennessee 30-17 after the game was tied at 10 at halftime. 

Freshman Harrison Bailey opened the season as Tennessee’s fourth-string quarterback, but he had ascended to No. 2 against Auburn, and he played two drives during the fourth quarter. Bailey has appeared in three games.

Tennessee trailed 13-10 late in the third quarter when Guarantano threw an interception while forcing a second-down pass intended for Josh Palmer in the end zone. Smoke Monday returned his prize 100 yards for a touchdown, giving Auburn (5-2) its first two-possession lead.

a baseball player holding a bat: Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano throws a pass during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) © Butch Dill, AP Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano throws a pass during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Auburn on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Guarantano’s blunder occurred on a run-pass option play. He opted for a pass into double coverage.

“If it’s not (open), you throw it away,” Pruitt said. “It’s pretty simple. It’s a 13-10 ballgame there. It ends up being at least a 10-point swing. It could’ve been 14 points. So, it was a big play in the game, obviously. You can’t do that. It’s obvious, right? You can’t make those mistakes.”

Turnover aside, Pruitt said Tennessee had probably its best offensive performance of the season, and the Vols’ 464 yards were a season high.

“We moved the ball extremely well in between the 20 to 20 (yard lines),” Pruitt said, “but we didn’t create enough explosive plays, I believe, in the throw game to get some cheap points there, and we didn’t come away with enough points.”

Pruitt added that Tennessee “dominated the line of scrimmage,” evidenced by its 222 rushing yards. He said Guarantano had a hand in Tennessee’s success on the ground.

“He done a lot of really good things in the game – made a lot of good checks for us that got us in the right runs,” Pruitt said of the 32-game career starter. “These guys were shifting in and out of fronts, and that’s important at the quarterback position. If you want to be efficient at running the football, you got to make sure you’re able to run it in the right fronts.

“Obviously, there’s probably three or four plays in the game that needed to be better – particularly that one was a game-changing play, and it’s something that he understands, and it’s something that can’t happen.”

Guarantano finished 15-of-23 passing for 156 yards and scored on a 9-yard run.

Bailey completed 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards, marking his best relief outing.

“I’ve liked his presence,” Pruitt said of Bailey. “He’s seemed to be pretty calm. He stepped in there and made two or three really good throws.”

If Tennessee makes a change at starting quarterback, it would mark the first time someone other than Guarantano started since Nov. 9, 2019, when Brian Maurer started against Kentucky. Guarantano entered in relief that day and helped Tennessee rally to victory.

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Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Jeremy Pruitt offers assessment of Jarrett Guarantano, Tennessee football's QB situation

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