We’ve mentioned the struggles Vol quarterbacks faced when making their first start in the middle of a season: Jarrett Guarantano, Josh Dobbs, Nathan Peterman, and Justin Worley all failed to lead a touchdown drive in their first appearance as a starter. Brian Maurer passed that test with flying colors. So, what do mid-season replacements tend to do in their second start?
Guarantano’s second start was at #1 Alabama in 2017. It’s an unfair data point, but here it is anyway: 9-of-16 (56.3%) for 44 yards (2.8 ypa) with no touchdowns and an interception. For the third game in a row and the second under Guarantano, the Vols failed to score an offensive touchdown (though Rashaan Gaulden got six points and two digits).
If you’ll allow game three, Guarantano got much better. At Kentucky the following Saturday, he was 18-of-23 (78.3%) for 242 yards (10.5 ypa). He didn’t throw a touchdown (or an interception), but Ty Chandler did crack the end zone twice. The Vols attempted six field goals, Cimaglia made four of them, but Kentucky prevailed 29-26.
In 2013, Josh Dobbs also went from the frying pan to the fire in his second start. After failing to produce a touchdown drive in a 31-3 loss at #9 Missouri, the Vols returned home to play #9 Auburn. Dobbs’ numbers were about the same: 16-of-25 (64%) for 128 yards (5.1 ypa) with no touchdowns and an interception, plus 10 carries for 50 yards. The Vols did take a 13-6 lead on the first play of the second quarter on a Rajion Neal run, then used a pick six just before halftime to close within 27-20. But Auburn finished the game on a 28-3 run.
Justin Worley’s second start came against MTSU in 2011, a 2-10 Blue Raiders squad. In the frat house kicker game – shout out Derrick Brodus and Alcoa High School – Worley went 23-of-32 (71.9%) for 291 yards (9.1 ypa) with a touchdown in a 24-0 victory.
So the good news: no one got worse. Guarantano played Bama but was much better in start three, Dobbs played two top ten teams and was about the same, Worley was much better against a bad team. That’s a good precedent for Maurer, who gets to take a breath between Georgia and Alabama in what’s become a big game against Mississippi State. His first start already exceeded historical expectations. The same history says he doesn’t have to take a step backward in start number two.