Jeremy Pruitt believes both his QBs 'deserve' to play but explains why playing Jarrett Guarantano the entire game was important
Without a doubt, Tennessee’s offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders on Saturday against West Virginia. Usually when that happens, the blame often falls at the feet of the quarterback. That wasn’t the case on Saturday from Charlotte as UT’s starting quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano, was one of the lone bright spots for the struggling unit.
The redshirt sophomore completed 19 of 25 passes on the day for 172 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he did not record a turnover in the game. Considering Guarantano’s center when the wrong way on the first play from scrimmage, providing an opportunity West Virginia lineman Kenny Bigelow Jr. took full advantage of and flattened Guarantano, Tennessee’s quarterback kept his poise following the team’s rough start.
During his postgame press conference, Pruitt shared his belief that both of the quarterbacks vying to be the starter on Rocky Top deserve to play following a heated training camp battle.
“Both guys, talking about Keller, deserve to play,” Pruitt said. “They’ve worked really hard in camp, been a really close battle between those two guys.”
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So if both guys deserve to play, what was the determining factor that won Guarantano the job heading into the opener?
“Jarrett is probably a little more athletic. In the last week, he’s had maybe just a little bit better practices, not taking anything away from Keller,” Pruitt explained. “I told both of them, we are going to need both of them to play. I told Jarrett, I don’t care if you throw 24 for 24 for this game, the next week, Keller Chryst is going to play. We need to play him; from him to create an opportunity — a backup quarterback. So we’ll let him play some this next week.”
While Tennessee’s coach makes a good point about building up depth under center, after all, the team’s backup is only an injury away from seeing significant playing time, he indicated it was important to let Guarantano play the entire West Virginia game.
“We felt like it was important to give whoever we decided to be the quarterback a chance to be the quarterback,” Pruitt continued. “They don’t have to look over their shoulder. If they start slow, they got a chance to rebound. I think Jarrett did, I think he did.
“I thought he kept his poise, which is important for a quarterback, you know? The thing about a quarterback, it takes 10 other guys around you to execute on a high level and give you a chance to have success. There was times today we didn’t do that and I think he kept his poise and tried to play within himself.”
Any objective observer of Tennessee’s opener saw that Pruitt made the right decision to start and play Guarantano. When things fell apart immediately out of the gate, the quarterback rallied the offense in the second quarter and nearly seized the lead going into halftime. Following the hour halftime break, due to weather conditions, West Virginia came out and scored immediately and then on the following two possessions. At that point, the game was out of reach, but you can’t put that on Guarantano.
As Pruitt stated, his quarterback needs more players around him to step up their game if Tennessee is going to have an efficient offense this season.