Tennessee will be strolling into Neyland Stadium with a new man when South Carolina visits for an SEC East showdown. Jarrett Guarantano may not be new to Vol fans, but at noon on Saturday, the redshirt freshman will make his first career start in a crucial game for the Vols and Butch Jones.
The move comes after a bye week reevaluation of all of Tennessee’s starters, but it isn’t much of a bold move. Former starter Quinten Dormady has thrown for 925 yards this season, but has thrown six picks to match his six touchdowns.
Not only that, but Dormady managed just 64 passing yards against Georgia two weeks ago in a stagnant offensive performance from the Vols. It was clear that the offense needed change, and now it’s going to get a big one in a new starting quarterback. Here’s what the young Guarantano brings to Tennessee’s offense.
Sharper Quarterback Mechanics
In limited action, Guarantano has had solid feet and pocket awareness. However, that limited action came against Indiana State, UMass and some garbage time plays against Georgia.
In Guarantano, though, the Vols get a quarterback who looks a little more comfortable with his mechanics in the pocket. Former starter Dormady has worked himself into trouble with too many throws without coming set, and those passes end up inaccurate and often dangerously floating in the air.
Guarantano brings in a stronger arm, too. The ball comes out of his hand a bit quicker than it does Dormady’s, as you can see in some of his throwing highlights below. That should help both the receivers struggling to get open for long and the offensive line, which hasn’t overly impressed this season.
Guarantano Brings Mobility
Sure, Dormady can “run,” but it was evident in his few read and designed run plays that Dormady isn’t going to beat any SEC team with his legs. Teams were loading the box on the Vols anyway, and Dormady’s lack of speed kept him from creating much (if any) distance between he and defenders when he kept handoffs.
Guarantano is simply just faster and a better runner than his counterpart. That alone will give him more of a Josh Dobbs-type look. For a struggling passing game, that could eliminate sacks or open up the possibility of scramble yards, something Dormady just couldn’t find much of.
In the run game, Larry Scott’s offensive options only grow. The problem the offense runs into, however, is that opposing defenses are challenging Tennessee up front and forcing the Vols to beat them through the air. With more defenders in the box, Guarantano’s read and designed run options will be limited, but he provides a bigger threat.
If the redshirt freshman can break through for a big run just once early in the game, South Carolina will be forced to play to that threat, potentially opening more opportunities up for John Kelly.
The Offense Looks More Comfortable With A Mobile Quarterback
Simply put, Tennessee’s offense has looked its best under Butch Jones with Josh Dobbs at the helm. While Guarantano has a long way to go to play to Dobbs’ playmaking caliber, Scott and Jones have plenty of experience calling games with a dual-threat quarterback.
The Vols haven’t had a true passer like Dormady since Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman (*shivers*) back in 2013 and the first half of 2014, so it makes sense that the both the players and coaching staff had some trouble adjusting to a guy who wasn’t going to be a mobile threat.
Jones and former offensive coordinator Mike DeBord loved to give Dobbs plays like quarterback draws, fake-screen quarterback runs, and more on top of your reads and designed runs. Guarantano has a lot to prove at the signal-caller spot, but so does the coaching staff. They need to get the offense clicking, too.
Guarantano Could Bring A Fresh Start
Outside of an explosive second half against Georgia Tech, a wild fourth quarter in the Swamp and Indiana State (shrug), the Vols’ offense has looked average at best. Tennessee never had a drive go longer than 28 yards against the Bulldogs, save John Kelly’s 44-yard run that ended in a fumble. Whether it was receivers getting open, Dormady not finding targets or the offensive line not being able to stand up to Georgia, things literally couldn’t get any worse.
After a poor 17-point outing against UMass and that performance, Jones promised to reevaluate the starters and change things up. After Jones started bringing in his own recruits, the Vols haven’t struggled to score points. Is Guarantano the answer? Possibly, but he’s not the only answer. The quarterback position isn’t alone in the fault of the offensive woes, but a change could just spark Tennessee to start moving the ball again.