Jones Hopeful QB Guarantano Gives Vols Offensive Spark

Tennessee Coming Off Disastrous Shutout Against 'Dogs

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - by Larry Fleming
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is hopeful that redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano can breathe new life into a defense that failed to score for the first time in 289 games in a 41-point loss to Georgia.
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is hopeful that redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano can breathe new life into a defense that failed to score for the first time in 289 games in a 41-point loss to Georgia.
- photo by UT Athletics

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones spoke to reporters at Wednesday's press conference in Knoxville and confirmed that redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano will start at quarterback against South Carolina on Saturday.

Guarantano, a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder from Lodi, New Jersey, will supplant junior Quinten Dormady when the Vols (3-2, 0-2) take on the Gamecocks (4-2, 2-2) at Neyland Stadium.

Kickoff is scheduled for noon on ESPN.

“Jarrett Guarantano will be the starter,” Jones said in remarks made available by the sports information department in an email. “He’s worked very hard. Quinten did some very good things as well and, as I’ve continued to say all year long, a lot of times the quarterback is a by-product of execution and everyone around them. Jarrett (has) worked very hard and he’ll have that opportunity on Saturday.”

It will be Guarantano’s first college start and he’ll open the game with very little game experience this year after redshirting in 2016.

As a sophomore, Dormady played in only four games while serving as Joshua Dobbs’ backup. Dormady was 11 for 17 with 148 yards while Dobbs, who started all 13 games, threw for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He also rushed 150 times for 831 yards and 12 TDs.

An embarrassing offensive effort by the Vols in a disconcerting 41-0 loss to Georgia – Tennessee’s worst home loss since 1905 – basically forced Jones’ hands to make the change at quarterback.

In that colossal flop, Dormady was 5 for 16 for 64 yards with two interceptions. Guarantano was 6 for 7 for only 16 yards. The two quarterbacks were sacked a combined three times and helped produce Tennessee’s first shutout in 289 games.

“Each game is different in and of itself,” Jones said. “It’s more so that we just felt Jarrett earned the opportunity. We need to score points in this conference. It’s going to take points to win and it’s no reflection on Quinten. It’s a lot of individuals around him. Quinten has done some good things, but you’re always looking for what you feel gives you the best opportunity to win the football game.

“The scheme is the scheme and the scheme is in place, so it’s more that I think Jarrett has earned that right and that opportunity.”

On paper, Guarantano looks like a better fit for the offense that was so suitable for Dobbs. He is clearly the more versatile of the two players. Guarantano threw for 3,028 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 523 yards and 12 TDs during his prep career at Bergen Catholic High School.

It did the Vols little good that Dormady was running the option, but scarcely ever ran the football. In five games, Dormady rushed 10 times for zero yards. Guarantano, in three games, rushed 10 times and gained 6 yards.

Opposing defenses didn’t worry about Dormady running and stopped Guarantano when he did run, either by design or after being flushed from the pocket.

After the Georgia debacle, Jones said that no starting player was assured of being the starter against South Carolina. Jones and his staff spent an off week assessing the players and on Tuesday it became obvious the starting quarterback would likely be Guarantano. It was just as clear that Dormady was not happy with what was happening and rumors flew that he was contemplating leaving the program. However, he took part in Tuesday’s practice.

“Well,” Jones said Wednesday, Quinten is a competitor and, obviously, was very disappointed, but that’s what you would expect from a competitor. I thought he had one of his better practices (Tuesday). He came and worked and, again, you’re always one snap away. In life, we go through setbacks and you deal with it and I think he’s dealt with it very well.”

Jones addressed the question about putting Guarantano in the best situation to succeed against the Gamecocks’ defense, which is ranked 12th in the 14-team SEC. Tennessee’s offense is ranked 13th in the conference.

“First of all, it’s having a game plan that plays to his skill sets,” Jones said. “His skill sets are like Quinten’s in terms of being a drop-back passer and being able to throw the football. We must put him in situations where he can be successful. Football is a game of execution; it’s about all 11 individuals working together as one.

Another important factor is poise. (South Carolina) is a good defensive football team. They are going to have success like they have against all their opponents. Jarrett has worked very hard this week and Quinten has as well. It’s about being able to execute for a very long period of time.”

Included in the most recent offensive evaluations is the Vols’ offensive line. Against Georgia, that unit produced very few lanes for running back John Kelly, who went into the Sept. 30 showdown as the SEC’s leading rusher. Kelly managed just 44 rushing yards on 16 carries and the Vols produced only 62. The Bulldogs rushed for 294 yards, including 109 by Nick Chubb.

Jones said South Carolina’s offense, ranked 12th in the conference, starts with quarterback Jake Bentley.

“Offensively, it all starts with (Bentley),” he said. “He really does a good job managing the game. They also have as good a tight end as I’ve seen in a long time. They have a good running back corps and great length at the wide receiver position. I’ve been very impressed with them.”

On a high note, Tennessee’s pass defense ranks No. 1 in the SEC and third nationally. Georgia passed for only 84 yards, but threw only 17 passes while completing seven against the Vols. Why would the Bulldogs throw the football while they were gashing Tennessee’s rush defense for almost 300 yards?

“I think we’ve done a very good job tackling and being more gap-conscious, more gap sound in our run fits,” Jones said of overall progress made by the defense. “It has been a combination of individuals playing to the scheme, executing their assignment and doing their job.”

Additional Quotes

Coach Butch Jones

Opening statement:
“I’m just starting off with an update on some injuries and some injury situations. Evan Berry and Jakob Johnson will still be out for this game. Both individuals are progressing and we look forward to their return. I still don’t know when, but they are getting closer and closer.

“The more video that you watch on South Carolina, the more impressive they become. Obviously, defensively they take the football away. They do a great job of getting all 11 individuals to the football. The way they game tackle, the way they try to rake the football out and separate the ball from your body - they do a tremendous job with that. Their back seven is very talented and they’re big and physical up front. Offensively it all starts with the quarterback, (Jake) Bentley. He really does a good job of managing the game. You can tell that he’s their leader, he’s in control. They also have as good of a tight end as I’ve seen in a long time. We’re going to have to account for him and everywhere he goes. It’s very impressive, they had three starting offensive linemen out last week and were able to win and run the football and generate points. They have a very good running back corps and great length at the wide receiver position and it’s going to be how we play them. I’ve been very impressed with them.”

On why the defense has improved since Week 1:
“We’ve been able to take the football away, but we need to take it away much more. That’s an area that we have to continue to grow and get better. I think we’ve done a very good job of tackling and being more gap conscious, more gap sound in our run fits. I think it’s been a combination of individuals playing to the scheme, executing their assignment and doing their job. It’s going to take everything that we have
this Saturday with their RPOs, their misdirection and their physical downhill running game. Then there’s obviously the way that they throw the ball on the perimeter, then the zone read and Jake (Bentley) can keep the football. He can get them 10-15 yards when he needs to. He can scramble and make plays when there’s nowhere to go with the football.”

On evaluation of physicality of offensive line:
“We pride ourselves on physicality, make no mistake about it. There have been some games where we played with good physicality and other games where we have to do a much better job with that. Again, it’s a byproduct of a lot of things that go into it. Sometimes, it’s taking the right steps up front or your hand placement that affects physicality. A lot of times it’s pad level. If you don’t play with great technique, you’re not going to be allowed to play with the high level of physicality that we expect and demand. We need to be more consistent as a football team, not just in the offensive front, but I would say more consistent as a football team in all three phases from a high level of physicality. That’s something that we take great pride in. South Carolina, they’re a very physical football team so it’s going to be a great measure for us.”

On the offensive line and their continuity:
“Any time you can have continuity with those five individuals it helps immensely just from a communicative standpoint from working together, them understanding each other, the line calls, the non-verbal communication and the ability to understand exactly what they’re thinking. That’s very big. The thing for us is just the depth. We’re getting to a point where sometimes it affects how you practice, so the depth is more of a concern than anything. Those five individuals working together I think really helps.”

On the tough loss to South Carolina last year:
“This is a new team. Obviously, our older players remember that. If you look, since we’ve been here, at the last four years, the first year it came down to a last-second field goal and Michael Palardy put it through the uprights and we were able to beat a top-ranked opponent. If you look at year two we go on the road and we’re down by all those points and Josh Dobbs leads us to, I believe, a double-overtime win and Curt Maggitt did a good job of coming off the edge along with Derek (Barnett) in overtime. You look at year three here, a close game I believe. They have an opportunity to win the football game and we do a good job of ball disruption and hunting the ball. Jalen Reeves-Maybin recovers a fumble.  You look at last year, and we had the ball on the final possession with an opportunity to win the football game, so again each year is different, each storyline is different. This is a different team but I think our older players remember it. I think it’s a respect that they have for them because they are a very good football team.”

On the upperclassmen:
“It’s been great to see because I think we continue to have emerging leaders. It’s important to them and it’s like I talk with some of our seniors about, you only have one senior year and you can’t get it back and how are you going to leave your legacy here. How is your senior class going to be remembered, and we kind of sat in my office and reminisced about their previous years here and the previous seniors and illustrations and great examples. I said one day there is going to be a younger player that you’re impacting or influencing right now with your leadership and your poise and accountability and demands of the team. So, we’ve had some very healthy dialogue in terms of that. It’s important and they understand what is to be a senior here at Tennessee.”

On the game plan for South Carolina’s wide receiver Bryan Edwards:
“Well, you always have to account for him and you have to know where he’s at from a formational and from a personal standpoint. It’s going to get to a point where no matter what you do when the ball’s in the air, it becomes a one-on-one matchup and that’s why going to be critical for us to be able to play the 50/50 ball. They want to do that and they do a really good job with that.”

On the youth at the safety position:
“We are very young in the back end. Cheyenne Labruzza is a true freshman who is now in a major backup role at the safety position. Theo Jackson is as well. We are trying to get them as many valuable repetitions as we can.”

On junior defensive lineman Shy Tuttle’s progression to being back to full speed:
“I was with Shy this morning. We spoke exactly about that. He is a resilient individual working very hard. When you look at the two injuries he has suffered, they are significant injuries. A lot of times individuals never recover from those injuries. He is as positive as can be. He said that this is the first time he has started to feel like his old self. It takes time. It takes time from a conditioning standpoint. It takes time to build back your trust in the recovery of those injuries. Every rep he gets is very important. With every rep, whether it is in a game or in practice, he gets more and more confident. His confidence is getting back to where it was when he was a true freshman. I have been exceptionally proud with him. He is always first in the training room and he is the last to leave. He has a great personality. He is getting better and better each week.”

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)



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