Butch Jones knows he’s walking on egg shells.
He also knows that no matter how many in-game repetitions Quinten Dormady receives, the junior isn’t the answer at quarterback for a decaying Tennessee offense.
According to reports, true freshman Jarrett Guarantano will start Saturday’s noon game against South Carolina, thus ending the short-lived Dormady era after only five games. In those five games, Dormady finished with more turnovers (8) than touchdowns (6), and never looked the part of a competent starting quarterback.
It wasn’t all Dormady’s fault — from the jump, it was evident Tennessee’s offense never had a concrete plan, as they not only alternated between two quarterbacks like a game of musical chairs, but failed to turn running back John Kelly into the focal point of the offense.
But regardless of where the finger should be pointed, Jones made the correct call by handing over the keys to Guarantano.
Although the redshirt freshman has struggled mightily during his sporadic and limited playing time — he’s completing only 50 percent of his passes while averaging 2.4 yards per pass attempt — Jones’ hand was forced in this situation. Patience from the fan base is running razor thin, and given the differing reactions from the fans between both quarterbacks (cheers for Guarantano, jeers for Dormady), it’s obvious Jones is somewhat pandering to his harshest critics.
But that’s only a small piece of the pie. The root cause of this move deals mostly with Jones’ job security, which is teetering off the edge of a cliff at the moment.
With Dormady, the writing was on the wall. Not only does Tennessee get obliterated by Alabama (which will be Guarantano’s first career start on the road in the SEC, by the way), but games against South Carolina, LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and even Missouri are completely up in the air, which should never be a possible scenario at a program of this stature.
Now there’s no guarantee that Guarantano will play up to snuff against any one of those teams. But, what he brings to the table is the dual-threat, explosive nature this offense sorely lacked with Dormady in the shotgun continuously handing the ball off on read options. With Guarantano, there’s a certain level of unpredictability on those plays.
The only critique this decision deserves is the timing. While starting Dormady made sense logically — he’s been with the program for two seasons and had actual in-game experience entering this season — it didn’t make much sense schematically, which is probably why Jones was never comfortable with placing his full confidence in Dormady even after the season started.
It’s fine that Guarantano’s debut comes during a noon game against an above-average South Carolina team. There won’t be as many eye balls there as there was during the season opener against Georgia Tech or against Florida, which was the most watched college football game of that particular week. But looming on the horizon is a road trip to Tuscaloosa against an Alabama team that has beaten a pair of SEC teams by the score of 59-0 and 66-3. Placing Guarantano in that hellish environment in only his second start could induce PTSD.
Jones has mismanaged quarterbacks his entire career in Knoxville. He randomly started Nathan Peterman against Florida in 2013, thus ruining him. He then removed Joshua Dobbs’ redshirt that same season.
His juggling act between Dormady and Guarantano is partially to blame for a derailed 2017 campaign, but at some point, Jones had to make a change.
Now, we’ll get to see if Guarantano can transform his abundance of leadership reps into touchdowns.