We’ll probably all find out who’s starting for Tennessee within an hour of kickoff. If it’s Brian Maurer, interest will certainly rise, regardless of #3 Georgia on the other sideline. But Tennessee’s recent history suggests the magic bullet usually isn’t:
2017: Jarrett Guarantano vs South Carolina
- 11-of-18 (61.1%) for 133 yards (7.4 ypa), zero TD/INT
Four of those completions and 72 of those yards came in the final 1:13, with Guarantano taking advantage of South Carolina’s prevent defense. The Vols got looks at the end zone but couldn’t get in. Tennessee ran the ball 39 times to 19 passing attempts, kicked three field goals, and lost 15-9.
2013: Josh Dobbs at #9 Missouri
- 26 of 42 (61.9%) for 240 yards (5.7 ypa), zero TD, 2 INT
Dobbs also ran the ball seven times for 45 yards, but Tennessee never threatened in a 31-3 loss to a Missouri program we were probably still learning to take seriously. He was also forced into action due to injury.
2013: Nathan Peterman at #19 Florida
- 4-of-11 (36.3%) for 5 yards (0.5 ypa), zero TD, 2 INT
No need to beat a dead horse here.
2011: Justin Worley vs #13 South Carolina
- 10-of-26 (38.5%) for 105 yards (4.0 ypa), zero TD, 2 INT
The Vols turned a muffed South Carolina punt into a 3-0 early lead, then didn’t score again. Tennessee was turned away on 4th-and-1 at the South Carolina 44 late in the first half, then had 1st-and-Goal at the Carolina 2 after an interception by Prentiss Waggner. Worley threw an interception two plays later, and Carolina responded with an infamous 20-play drive for an insurmountable 14-3 lead.
2010: Tyler Bray at Memphis
- 19-of-33 (57.6%) for 333 yards (9.8 ypa), 5 TD, 0 INT
Pro tip: it helps to play 2010 Memphis in your first career start!
2008: Nick Stephens at #10 Georgia
- 13-of-30 (43.3%) for 208 yards (6.9 ypa), 2 TD, 0 INT
Though no one would master the Clawfense, this wasn’t bad, really. Georgia easily took away the run (15 carries, 1 yard) but Stephens kept Tennessee around all day.
2006: Jonathan Crompton at #11 Arkansas
- 16-of-34 (47.1%) for 174 yards (5.1 ypa), 2 TD, 1 INT
Crompton’s first glimpse is remembered fondly when he replaced a gimpy Erik Ainge the week before against LSU, then almost led the Vols to victory on the strength of throwing deep to Robert Meachem. The next week at Arkansas he was far less successful; Ainge returned from injury to guide the Vols to the Outback Bowl.
The combined stat line in the first-time starts from Guarantano, Dobbs, Peterman, and Worley (three of them coming against Top 20 teams): 51-of-97 (52.6%) for 483 yards (4.98 ypa), zero touchdowns, six interceptions. And it’s not just passing touchdowns: JG, Dobbs, Peterman, and Worley failed to lead a single offensive touchdown drive in those four games.
If it’s Maurer, we should take the same long view for the program and place it on his shoulders. Anything he does well would be progress compared to his contemporaries. And if it’s nothing but struggle? He might still grow into anything from Worley’s respectable performances under Butch Jones or Peterman’s under Chaney at Pitt. And hey, that Dobbs kid did pretty well the next time he was a mid-season replacement starter.
You absolutely never know. But for a mid-season replacement against a ranked team, we are unfortunately good at guessing. As with everything else Tennessee right now, there’s definitely the opportunity to surprise. Maybe he will. If Maurer does, delightful. If he doesn’t, the better data point will come next week.