Sunday Best: Everything Starts Now, But For Which Quarterback?

 

Up until the minute Jarrett Guarantano left Saturday’s game with what originally was called a collarbone issue but wound up being bruised ribs, I would have told you the guy under center was the one who gave the Vols the best chance to win.

After watching Keller Chryst against Alabama and rewatching him again in a replay of the game, I’m not so sure.

And you know what, Vols fans? That is an excellent thing moving forward.

There’s no question you’re in one camp or the other when it comes to who should be Tennessee’s quarterback when the Vols travel to Columbia, South Carolina, next weekend for Saturday night’s all-important game against the Gamecocks that could determine how the rest of the season goes.

You know who’s camp I’m in? Neither. I’ve decided to spend the rest of the fall at Camp Whoever-helps-us-win.

I don’t see practice everyday, and I don’t know if Guarantano or Chryst gives Tennessee the best chance to do that. I don’t know if Alabama backed off a bit in coverage by the time the Stanford transfer replaced Guarantano, and I don’t know how Chryst would play a complete game against mere mortals.

But Chryst certainly had his exceptional moments against those crimson cyborgs on Saturday. That’s encouraging, and nothing else. It’s not worrisome. It’s not a reason to get on a soap box. It’s not a reason to start flinging darts in JG’s direction. It’s ONLY encouraging. You know why? Because now both guys have proven they can do good things against good teams, and it’s very possible Tennessee will need both of them before this season is over, especially considering just how bad this offensive line remains.

If you’re looking for positives in yet another Bama beat-down, this time a 58-21 loss that marked the record 12th-straight Crimson Tide victory in the Third Saturday in October, there aren’t that many. The best thing by far is that it’s over, and, barring the news on receiver Josh Palmer who went out with an injury, Tennessee may have survived. Guarantano is hurt, but is he injured? Coach Jeremy Pruitt didn’t sound terribly concerned Saturday night.

Chryst came in, however, and more than did his job. He finished 9-of-15 for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It wasn’t just that he posted decent numbers, either. It’s that he looked really good doing it. He utilized Jauan Jennings, who had his second strong game in a row, catching six balls for 102 yards; he threw an absolute dime over the middle to Tyler Byrd [HE EXISTS!] for a touchdown; and he kept Ty Chandler in the passing game, throwing him a scoring strike, too.

There was plenty of zip on his throws, and it’s simply something we haven’t seen from him. According to practice reports, the coaches hadn’t seen it much, either.

All of those things are positive, but the most important thing — especially with this offensive line — is Chryst recognized blitzes, moved away from pressure and made some plays. His pocket presence is a lot better than JG’s, even if the latter can advance the ball downfield with authority and make every throw.

Now, I’m not saying that you absolutely need to start Chryst next week. As a matter of fact, I think if Guarantano is ready to go and I was the coach, he would probably remain the starter until he proves he isn’t the guy. Tennessee doesn’t really need a quarterback controversy right now, especially before such a pivotal stretch of the season — the most pivotal stretch of the season.

But Chryst’s emergence and Saturday’s performance gives Tennessee options, right? That’s not a bad thing.

Is it really a controversy to have a competition? If you believe Pruitt, every player every week is evaluated, and his game reps mirror how well he performed in practice. He reportedly hasn’t done that with the quarterbacks because the offense needs to develop continuity with “The Man” who is going to lead the team. That’s been Guarantano, and other than taking some absolute shots because he doesn’t yet have the pocket vision, he’s done nothing to be benched.

As a matter of fact, he’s coming off his career game in the huge win at Auburn. Do you punish him for getting hurt against Alabama?

No. But you also have to realize that taking those kind of hits may make you a warrior, but they hurt your team. They cause turnovers, extra possessions for the opponent, and drive-killing sacks. Those are mistakes the Vols can’t afford with such a slim margin for error.

So, why not split first-team reps this week, just to see? Guarantano may not be able to go against South Carolina, anyway. We don’t know yet.

Some of you on Twitter have argued that you believe the coaches are not only doing what they think is best for now but adding weight to what’s best for the future, and that’s why Guarantano is getting the nod. I don’t agree with that at all. These coaches know how important selling marked improvement is to recruits, and if there’s anything we learned about Pruitt after Saturday’s comments, it’s that he still values recruiting above all else and knows he needs to recruit 25 players who do things his way because there are still people on this UT team who don’t. You don’t strive for the future to hurt the present. I believe they really believe JG is the man for the job.

Do they still? We’ll see.

It’s hard to fault what JG has done in games, even though offensive coordinator Tyson Helton has only let him loose a couple of times.

We all loved him last week, remember? This week, we all love Chryst.

It’s just vitally important to remember that both are Vols, and now we know that both are capable. If JG wants to keep his job, he may need to elevate his game, right? How can that be a bad thing? If you pull him against South Carolina, you should now have confidence in Chryst where, before, any of that would have been blind hope.

Tennessee lost a game on Saturday, but it found out that the offensive hopes don’t necessarily hinge of the health of Guarantano. That is a huge positive, because you know what?

The rest of this season — Every. Single. Game. — is winnable.

You heard that right. Though I would say the odds certainly are against the Vols to run the table (can you even fathom an eight-win season, especially with how we started??) there are no reasons why the Vols should be huge underdogs in any remaining game.

Will Missouri’s high-flying passing attack be a problem for Tennessee’s youthful secondary? Absolutely. Will Kentucky’s dynamic defense and Josh Allen wreak havoc on the Vols awful offensive line? Sure, it will. Is South Carolina a more talented team? Yeah, probably. Can Vanderbilt beat UT? Well, yeah, it has two years in a row, hasn’t it?

But are you scared of any of those teams? You shouldn’t be. Especially not now.

Don’t let Saturday’s slaughter do anything to make you feel worse about this season. What happened was what was always going to happen, and it’s happened to every team Alabama has played this year. The Tide are an NFL team single-handedly sucking the life out of college football. It is what it is.

Anything is possible for the Vols from here on — from 8-4 to 4-8 — and they’ve got two capable quarterbacks who can do good things with the football and lead this team on drives.

At this point, we have to trust the coaches to make the right decisions, and if they’re struggling within the framework of a game, the other needs to be ready to play. If they seize that opportunity, all the better, right?

Chryst seized his chance against the Tide and looked excellent doing it. Guarantano did the same a week before against Auburn.

Small sample sets, both. Neither have proved they’re elite, dynamic signal-callers capable of carrying this team on their shoulders. Both are proving they’re perfectly competent, and it’s going to be fun watching this growing, developing team play against some competition that is on the same plane as them right now.

Florida is, and the Vols turned it over six times in a lopsided loss. Auburn is, and Tennessee finally took advantage, made its own breaks and won a big game. Every other team is in that sack of potatoes, too.

It’s time for Tennessee to take care of business in the “real” season, which starts next week. It will be interesting to see how Pruitt, Helton and crew handle the developing quarterback situation. However they do, the dude out there will have the Power T on their helmet.

We should all be encouraged by what we’ve seen recently, because we will need the quarterback to make plays for us to win games, especially next week against a South Carolina team that is angry, will be playing at home and had an extra week to rest and prepare.

You say the goal should be 6-6? I don’t agree. Every game is winnable, so the goal should be 8-4. Pruitt and Co. need to do whatever it takes to get there, including opening up the quarterback competition and seeing what shakes out.

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Harley
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Harley

Excellent points and couldn’t agree more. My concern is whether this Team has the mental strength to rise to the occasion. Pruitt has been doing a good job of giving them every chance to win, but poor execution is an issue. He will likely push hard on those he believes are not competing and how they react is a big question mark in my mind. They have the talent, but do they have the mental strength? Go Vols!!