The Tennessee Vols didn’t play this past weekend, but fans should still feel better about UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt as the team prepares for its final five games of the season.
Tennessee is off to a 2-3 start this season for a myriad of reasons. But one of the main things that’s been holding the Vols back is subpar quarterback play.
Redshirt senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has been plagued by the same issues in 2020 that plagued him in 2018 and 2019 — inconsistency.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, the options behind Guarantano haven’t proved to be any better. Sophomore Brian Maurer, who missed a significant chunk of fall practice due to injury, has been playing catchup this fall. Redshirt sophomore JT Shrout appears to be a turnover machine. And true freshman Harrison Bailey has been deemed “not ready”.
Bailey is probably the most frustrating part of the equation here. He’s clearly the most talented quarterback on the roster, but Pruitt has been reluctant to give him much of a shot.
To make matters worse, LSU started a true freshman (three-star quarterback TJ Finley, who was rated below Bailey in the 2020 signing class) against South Carolina on October 24 and he played exceptionally well (265 passing yards and two touchdowns in a 52-24 win against the Gamecocks).
If a lower-rated quarterback can do it at LSU (a program that’s struggling after replacing most of its offensive production from 2019), then why can’t Bailey at Tennessee?
Well, it’s not that simple. It appears that LSU might have just been lucky against South Carolina.
This past weekend the Tigers played Auburn and Finley didn’t fare nearly as well.
Finley was 13-of-24 for 143 yards and two interceptions. He was replaced by fellow true freshman Max Johnson (LSU lost the game 48-11).
The struggle of LSU’s true freshman quarterback is a great example of why Pruitt has been so hesitant to play Bailey. Sure, he might come in and look brilliant for a half. But he could also look very much like a true freshman for an entire game.
It’s true that there have been some true freshmen that have played in the SEC/ACC and excelled. But that’s not the norm. The norm is what we saw take place in the LSU/Auburn game this past weekend.
Pruitt knows that as well as anyone. And that’s why Bailey hasn’t won the starting job yet. Trust me, if Pruitt thought that Bailey would give the Vols their best chance at winning, he’d be the guy.
Pruitt isn’t going to risk his job by playing the inferior quarterback option.
At this point, it’s simply clear that Tennessee just doesn’t have a great option. But maybe that will change in the coming weeks with Bailey getting more practice reps and becoming more comfortable in the offense.
If it doesn’t change, then it’s going to be a frustrating final month of the season for UT fans.
Featured image via Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK/John Reed-USA TODAY