KNOXVILLE — News broke Tuesday that Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will make his first career start against South Carolina, replacing junior Quinten Dormady, who has started all five games in 2017.
Vols fans had wanted a change at quarterback.
Now they have it.
The questions now are: Why Week 7, and will it work?
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 10, 2017
Why the change now? The change needed to come now for the hope in salvaging the remaining seven games and, more important, the locker room following an 0-2 start in conference play.
There have been too many incidents lately and not enough production.
The most recent scuffle centered around defensive end Darrell Taylor kicking offensive lineman Trey Smith in practice. Taylor was already set to be suspended the first half against South Carolina due to being ejected from the previous game against Georgia. Now Butch Jones has announced that Taylor is suspended indefinitely.
The Tennessee locker room has all of the signs of being in turmoil. The poor start is even more reason to make a change at quarterback in hopes of turning around the season. A spark is needed, especially after lackluster efforts against UMass and Georgia.
There is a lot of outside noise surrounding the team. Speculation is rampant that the switch is based on fans and former players’ requests. National media also has not been kind to Jones in his team’s performance through five games.
If Nick Saban is worried about too much praise poisoning his team, Butch Jones is dealing with the exact opposite.
The change can allow the Vols to refocus and rally behind Guarantano. Dormady also has an opportunity to play his part from the sidelines in being a leader, supporting his teammates and showing good spirits while doing it.
Will the change at quarterback work? It’s not a given. There’s a reason Jones waited this long before giving the redshirt freshman Guarantano an opportunity. Fans certainly disagree, but Jones must have believed Dormady gave the Vols a better chance of winning.
The numbers didn’t support that theory, though. Dormady has completed 55 percent of his passes and thrown as many interceptions (6) as touchdowns. The Vols rank 13th in the SEC in scoring (24.2), almost two touchdowns worse than where they were in 2015 and 2016 under Josh Dobbs.
The sample size on Guarantano is so woefully small (12-for-24, 54 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs), it’s impossible to judge where the Vols would be had he been given more snaps. Now we’ll find out.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Josh Smith addressed the team going forward after the announcement. He said regardless of who plays quarterback, the Vols must go on.
“Georgia is in the past and it’s South Carolina now,” Smith said. “That’s our main focus right now and it has to be that. We can’t end our season versus Georgia. We have seven games left. It’s a long season and we can still finish with a great record.”
Smith went on to discuss Guarantano stepping into the role of being the leader of the offense.
“Jarrett has a good story because he’s unselfish. They’re both competing and he keeps competing,” he said. “That just shows his character. I think highly of him and I think he’s growing. I think he’s just going to keep getting better.”
Smith also addressed fans booing Dormady and some fans being split on who should play.
“I mean, what more could you ask from them,” he asked. “You’ve got fans wanting one quarterback and some wanting the other. It’s just like, how do you want a kid to perform when you’ve got people booing on him? He’s 19 years old, and y’all are booing him? That’s hard. I take that personal, but you know, they’re competing.
“I feel for both of them and they’re both just competing and we’re ready for South Carolina.”
For the first time at Tennessee, Jarrett Guarantano at practice today as the projected starter at quarterback. He did some things that we filmed. pic.twitter.com/SRxlRV1xfx
— Marc Whiteman (@MarcWhiteman) October 10, 2017