Tennessee football: Why Jarrett Guarantano has more on the line against Florida than any other Vol
This weekend marks an incredible opportunity for Tennessee’s football team. However, one player has more on the line than any other Vol when UT hosts Florida on Saturday.
Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano can instantly thrust himself into the pantheon of memorable quarterbacks with a win against the Gators this week. No one will ever talk about his mediocre season in 2017 again. That will just be looked at as a normal learning experience and the natural growth of a young quarterback.
No one will ever bring up his sideline antics when he appeared to be pouting as the Vols were playing Georgia Tech last year. That will be chalked up to a dysfunctional football team, not Guarantano’s attitude. Team chemistry was far beyond Guarantano’s control. Poor communication and poor coaching could well have been the cause of Guarantano’s distress against the Yellow Jackets. That seems quite plausible considering the disturbing news that surfaced about Butch Jones’ coaching style after he was fired.
Guarantano seems ready for the challenge. According to Pro Football Focus, Guarantano was nearly perfect against the blitz against UTEP. He completed 7-of-8 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown when the Miners brought extra pressure last weekend. Certainly, UTEP isn’t a national title contender, but Guarantano’s continued toughness is something to be respected. Since becoming a starter last season, he has taken a beating with porous pass protection around him. As many times as Guarantano has been knocked down, he’s always gotten up. Surely, that has earned his teammates’ and coaches’ respect.
The sophomore is sixth-best in the SEC with a 161.28 passer rating. That’s one slot above his next upcoming counterpart. Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks’ passer rating is 148.82. The two have followed similar paths since signing with their respective schools. Franks was rated as the No. 5 overall quarterback in the 2016 class by 247Sports’ composite recruiting ranking. Guarantano was No. 7. In the 20 or so years that recruiting rankings have been tracked, Guarantano was one of the highest rated quarterbacks that the Vols have ever signed.
Things were supposed to be perfect for Franks and Guarantano when they signed with Florida and Tennessee, respectively. Both seemed to be great fits for the offenses and head coaches they signed with. Or so we thought.
Mounting losses and off-field drama led to the firing of Jones and former Florida coach Jim McElwain. Both quarterbacks had every reason to consider transferring. Both had the ability to play in different offensive systems. Both had plenty of eligibility remaining to rebuild their career.
Guarantano had even more reason to transfer. His father’s relationship with Jones was one of the reasons Guarantano selected the Vols. The Guarantanos felt comfortable with Jones. Once he was gone, the Vols hired a defensive-minded coach with a personality far different than his predecessor. Jones was jovial. Jeremy Pruitt seems joyless. He’s not in football to showcase his personality. His weekly coach’s show and media appearances are proof of that. Jones and Pruitt couldn’t be more different.
However, Guarantano decided to stay at UT. He decided to stick by his commitment even as the Vols brought in graduate transfer Keller Chryst from Stanford to challenge him for the starting quarterback position. Some believed Chryst would win the job. No matter. Guarantano never flinched.
Tennessee can’t win an SEC or national title this season. The Vols would be fortunate to be in that sort of position before Guarantano’s career is complete. However, Guarantano can still leave a legacy of perseverance in the face of incredible adversity. He can help turn around a program that fell to historic lows.
Guarantano can help rebuild a program by making the Vols relevant again. That means winning some games that most don’t think he can. That means creating some highlights that will make Tennessee much more attractive to recruits than they currently are. Guarantano’s first real chance to make that happen comes up on Saturday when the Vols try to upset the Gators.