The single biggest criticism of Tennessee Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt has been his handling of the quarterback position.

It’s been apparent for quite some time that Jarrett Guarantano is not the answer at quarterback for Tennessee.

Guarantano is a tough kid who has obvious arm talent, but he just doesn’t have the accuracy/consistency to be a starting quarterback in the SEC. I’ve said plenty of times in recent weeks — JG is a backup at best.

Pruitt, however, continues to roll with Guarantano, much to the ire of Vol fans.

On Saturday, I think we saw that Pruitt doesn’t really have a lot of options.

Redshirt sophomore JT Shrout entered the game in the first half after Guarantano threw two interceptions. Shrout almost immediately turned the ball over. I imagine Pruitt is seeing a lot of that during practice, which is why Shrout’s chances have been limited.

The other two candidates for playing time are sophomore Brian Maurer and true freshman Harrison Bailey.

Maurer’s long-term future doesn’t appear to be in Knoxville. He’s still on the team for now, but I wouldn’t expect that to be the case after the 2020 season.

(Maurer refuted a report on Saturday that he was hitting the transfer portal this week.)

Maurer has also missed a lot of time due to injury and COVID-19 contact tracing. All of that combined makes him an unlikely option at quarterback for the Vols.

That leaves Bailey, who actually got some reps in the loss to Kentucky.

Bailey is almost certainly the most talented quarterback on the team.

But is he ready?

There’s really no way to know until he’s thrown into the fire. Pruitt has been hesitant to give Bailey a shot because of all the practice time the young quarterback has missed (no spring practice, quarantine during fall practice).

It’s clear that Pruitt’s hope has been to roll with Guarantano this season in hopes of finishing 6-4 or 7-3.

Guarantano has the most experience and he typically takes care of the football (though he didn’t on Saturday).

If the Vols could get to 6-4 or 7-3 with Guarantano under center, it would allow Bailey to develop and it would also likely lead to the Vols landing a top 5 or top 10 recruiting class.

That scenario seems highly unlikely to happen after a 2-2 start with disastrous losses to Georgia and Kentucky.

The other option is going with Bailey and possibly finishing 5-5 or worse (Bailey, as a true freshman, would undoubtedly go through some growing pains).

At this point, I think that’s what Pruitt needs to do — regardless of the final outcome of the season.

Once Tennessee lost to Kentucky, this season was always going to have a huge negative attached to it. There’s no benefit to keeping Bailey on the bench now.

Bailey, along with incoming quarterback Kaidon Salter, is the future of the program, not JG.

It’s time for Pruitt to turn his eye to 2021. The Vols aren’t winning the SEC East this year.

But the program has the talent to compete in 2021. In fact, they should compete in 2021 — there’s no excuse not for UT to not be in the conversation next season.

The best thing for the program would be Bailey getting much-needed experience this season, which would help him be the best quarterback he can be in 2021.

I understand Pruitt’s plan coming into the season, but it’s time for a new plan. And that has to start next week against Alabama.

Featured image via Tennessee Athletic Communications
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