Prior to the start of the 2019 season, Tennessee Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt expressed confidence in Jarrett Guarantano by declaring him UT’s “only starter”.

But after a 1-3 start to the season, Pruitt’s confidence in Guarantano has waned.

Guarantano was benched in the midst of Tennessee’s blowout loss to the Florida Gators on Saturday. And while he eventually returned to the game, Pruitt wouldn’t commit to Guarantano after the loss. When asked by reporters if the quarterback spot was open for competition, Pruitt replied that every spot is open for competition.

After watching college football all day yesterday, and seeing some great quarterback play, I think it’s abundantly clear that Guarantano shouldn’t be a starter in the SEC. He doesn’t play with urgency, he’s not a leader on the field and he doesn’t elevate the play of those around him.

Entering the 2019 season, I think Pruitt and his staff decided to play Guarantano because they believed the redshirt junior quarterback gave the Vols their best chance to reach a bowl game. Essentially, they believed in Guarantano’s ability to limit mistakes, over the young players’ abilities to make plays (true freshman Brian Maurer and redshirt freshman JT Shrout).

Guarantano, for whatever reason, has regressed this season. He’s still not making plays and now he’s not protecting the football very well either (four interceptions in four games so far this year, and could have several more, after only three all of last year).

The New Jersey native is also missing WIDE OPEN receivers.

The end zone angle makes that throw look even worse.

I just don’t see any way Pruitt can continue to play Guarantano.

When Maurer was inserted into the game on Saturday, the offense played with urgency. Maurer tried to make plays (he quickly led the Vols down the field). The offense just looked like a more cohesive unit.

Maurer wasn’t perfect. He had some terrible overthrows. I think it’s obvious he’s probably not “ready” to start, but no one is ready until they are. It’s impossible to replicate SEC play in practice.

At this point, it’s almost a certainty that Tennessee won’t reach a bowl game. With matchups against Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama on deck, the Vols are staring at 1-6. While it’s certainly possible UT could go on a run after that stretch, it doesn’t seem likely. As of now the Vols will need to upset South Carolina and Kentucky (along with beating UAB and Vanderbilt) just to equal last year’s win total.

There’s zero reason for Pruitt to proceed with Guarantano as the starter. If Tennessee had managed to win the games against Georgia State and BYU, then I’d understand moving forward with Guarantano. But with a bowl game seemingly out of reach, Maurer has to be the guy moving forward.

Look, I know everyone is expecting 2020 UT commit Harrison Bailey to be the savior next season. And maybe he will be. But there’s no guarantee Bailey even signs with Tennessee (though I fully expect him to). The Vols can’t count on Bailey to be the answer next season. Maurer (and Shrout to some extent) needs all the reps he can get. And he needs them against SEC teams.

This isn’t a tough decision for Pruitt. If he wants to do what’s best for the longterm health of Tennessee’s football program, he’ll start Brian Maurer against Georgia on October 5.

It’s the easy answer. In fact, it’s the only answer that makes any sense.

Featured image via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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