Butch Jones on Guarantano, Vols' work-in-progress offense: 'We'll continue to evolve'
KNOXVILLE — After making his first career start in a 15-9 home loss to South Carolina, redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will now look forward to his first road test.
At No. 1 Alabama, in front 101,821 people inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Guarantano went 11-for-18 for 133 yards in his first start. He didn’t produce a lot of points, but he showed signs has the potential to lead the Vols to better outcomes.
Offensive coordinator Larry Scott said Guarantano “gave us a little bit of a spark, a little bit of the energy that we needed.”
The spark and energy comes after Team 121 fielded two consecutive games showing lifeless efforts against UMass and Georgia with Quinten Dormady at quarterback.
Yet Tennessee has only scored 26 points in the past three games and it will not get any easier; Alabama has allowed 31 points in four SEC games.
Butch Jones understands that “there are a lot of things to build on” moving forward and that his new starting quarterback has been in the football offices trying to get better since the defeat against South Carolina.
“He was in here all day yesterday (Sunday),” Jones said of Guarantano.
Tennessee online sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the largest sportsbooks are live and operating in the volunteer state. Tennessee is only one of a handful of SEC football states with legalized sports betting.
Jones also echoed Scott’s response in that he notices that Guarantano “brought energy” with his play.
“He was able to make plays with his legs,” Jones said. “He experienced some growing that comes with making your first start against a very good and physical defense. He will continue to grow. One thing you cannot put a price tag on is playing experience.
“I like the command, presence he brought. Our players fed off his leadership. He made some plays. In the end he stood in the pocket. He gave us an opportunity to win the game. We have a lot of positives to build on.”
As the Vols prepare for Alabama, which leads the SEC is just about everything, the search for hidden yardage will be at a premium to have any kind of success.
“I like to refer to those quarterbacks that can do that, the hidden yardage, you know go get first downs with their feet,” Scott said.
Scott said Guarantano “was able to do that” against South Carolina and “that changes the play calling” and “changes the way that you can fall into a rhythm as far as being a play-caller and he was able to do those things.”
Guarantano made some freshman mistakes that need correcting. Without providing details, Scott said those mistakes are “absolutely fixable” and are “things that you kind of expect from a young kid like that getting his first start.”
One area the Vols must improve is red-zone efficiency.
The Vols have scored just 10 touchdowns after reaching an opponent’s 20. Only Missouri and South Carolina have found the end zone fewer times. Alabama and Georgia have scored 25 and 20 touchdowns, respectively.
The problem resurfaced Saturday against South Carolina. The Vols were inside South Carolina’s 20 four times, but couldn’t score a touchdown. Instead, they netted just three field goals.
Their final series ended with back-to-back incompletions at South Carolina’s 2-yard line.
“It really came down to lack of execution,” Jones said. “It’s a combination of a breakdown here or there. It’s everywhere. You cannot have pre-snap penalties.
“You can’t go from 1st-and-10 to 1st-and-15. It starts with command of the line of scrimmage. It starts with discipline. It’s going through our progressions and protecting the quarterback. When you get in the red zone, the field condenses. Everything speeds up. We work very hard at that and will continue to. It all boils down to execution.”
Expanding the playbook will help, Jones said.
“We’ll continue to evolve,” he said. “It’s all about playing to his (Guarantano) strengths, or whoever the quarterback is. We’ll continue to evolve.
“I think the other thing you have to be cognitive of is not to give him (Guarantano) too much. We want his ability to take over. We don’t want his mind to tie his feet up or his thought process as well. I think it’s a combination of the volume, what he can handle and then his ability to go out and play freely. That starts with preparation. That starts with practice.”