It seems fair to say Tennessee isn’t asking Jarrett Guarantano to do too much so far. He only attempted 25 passes despite trailing all day against West Virginia. And the Vols didn’t seek to step on the gas to create additional separation from UTEP on the scoreboard, thus Guarantano attempted only 16 passes. His 54 attempts through three weeks rank 11th in the SEC, ahead of only the starters from Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi State, whose assistance hasn’t been required much beyond halftime.
But in those 54 attempts, however restrained the offense may or may not have been…Guarantano has been pretty good.
He’s hit on 39 of them, for a 72.2% completion percentage. That’s 10th nationally through three weeks. His 9.1 yards per attempt are tied for 22nd nationally. And the Vols are one of just 14 teams yet to throw an interception.
It’s one game against an FCS foe, one game against what may be the worst team in FBS, and one against a West Virginia team not known for its defense. But what he’s been asked to do, he’s done well.
How much more will the Vols ask of him this week?
The coaches change, but the first rule of Tennessee-Florida remains: the team that runs the ball best has the best chance to win. The best chance doesn’t guarantee victory – the Vols have won the rushing battle three years in a row now – but it’s still the best philosophy. And it’s one Jeremy Pruitt should enjoy.
Tennessee has run the ball 132 times this year to Guarantano’s 54 passes (plus six for Keller Chryst). So far they’ve kept the ball on the ground 68.8% of the time. It sounds like a winning formula in this series…but the results have been mixed thus far. The Vols are clearly more explosive this year: after just 46 runs of 10+ yards and 13 of 20+ yards last season, Tennessee has 21 and six, respectively, in 2018.
But slow starts are both perception and reality. What do we make of this:
- 1st Quarter: 28 carries, 35 yards, 1.6 ypc (129th nationally)
- 1st Half: 69 carries, 237 yards, 3.4 ypc (97th nationally)
- 2nd Half: 63 carries, 427 yards, 6.8 ypc (9th nationally)
(Stats from Sports Source Analytics)
Are the Vols simply wearing down lower-level competition as the game goes on? Ty Chandler’s 81-yard run in the third quarter certainly helps, and that first series against West Virginia certainly hurt the first quarter numbers. But Tennessee clearly has to get off to a better start.
And this is where the rubber will meet the road for Jeremy Pruitt and Tyson Helton: how long do you stay patient with the ground game against the Gators? How much more do you give Guarantano to do instead?
Of his 54 passes, I can’t remember many (if any) that were in danger of being intercepted. The Vols will have to take more chances. How this new staff manages risk will matter a lot; it’ll feel like even more to us watching after the way the previous staff often failed to manage it well. Tennessee is built on Maxim #1, and Jeremy Pruitt seems like a guy who likes coaching the team that makes the fewest mistakes. But it takes all seven maxims to beat the Gators. How the new coach plays for and makes the breaks will go a long way Saturday night.