Vols QB Guarantano Will Get First Start Vs. South Carolina

Dormady Headed For The Bench After Struggles

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 - by Larry Fleming
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano warms up prior to the Vols' game with Georgia Tech in Mercedes Benz Stadium earlier this season. The redshirt freshmen will get his first start against South Carolina this coming Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be televised on ESPN.
Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano warms up prior to the Vols' game with Georgia Tech in Mercedes Benz Stadium earlier this season. The redshirt freshmen will get his first start against South Carolina this coming Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be televised on ESPN.
- photo by Dennis Norwood/File Photo

(This story has been updated)

Tennessee coach Butch Jones confirmed Wednesday that quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will make his first start Saturday when Tennessee, struggling on and off the football field, plays host to South Carolina in an SEC contest to be televised by ESPN at noon from Neyland Stadium.

The beleaguered Jones will bench starter Quinten Dormady on and give Guarantano, a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder from Lodi, New Jersey, a chance to spark an offense that suffered its first shutout in 289 games last week against Georgia.

Jones is scheduled to meet with the media on Wednesday. He spoke to the media on Monday, but didn’t say whether Dormady or Guarantano would start on Saturday. Dormady was listed at No. 1 on the depth chart released on Monday.

Guarantano, a 2016 Under Armour All-American in high school, redshirted in 2016 and has played sparingly behind Dormady through the Vols’ first five games. As September came to a close, Dormady was 5 for 16 for a meager 64 yards with two interceptions in a 41-0 decision against Georgia, Tennessee’s worst home loss since 1905.

Guarantano, making his third appearance for the Vols (3-2, 0-2) this season, was 6 for 7 for 16 yards against the Bulldogs. A mobile quarterback most observers say is better-suited for Jones’ option offense, ran five times for minus-4 yards.

A three- or four-star prospect out of Bergen Catholic High School, whose father played at Rutgers when Jones was on the Scarlet Knights’ coaching staff, Guarantano has been touted as having some of the same skills as former UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Guarantano, who is 12 for 24 for 54 yards with one touchdown on the season, hasn’t been given much of a chance to show those skills and South Carolina’s defense will provide a substantial test in his debut as a college starter.

With Guarantano’s elevation to starter, social media lit up with rumors that Dormady was uncertain about his future in Knoxville and some said he was quitting the team or planning to transfer. However, Dormady participated in Tuesday’s practice session at Haslam Field.

Dormady was 76 for 137 (56.5 percent) for 925 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He led a late comeback against Georgia Tech in the season opener but has struggled recently. The offensive line can be blamed for a portion of the Vols’ struggles.

With Georgia shutting down tailback John Kelly, holding the SEC’s leading rusher to 44 yards, neither Dormady nor Guarantano was able to mount much of a passing attack.

Guarantano took snaps from first-string center Jashon Robertson and Dormady, a junior, was with back-up center Coleman Thomas during the open period of practice.

Will McBride, a freshman from League City, Texas, is the third-string quarterback. He has no game experience this season.

Meanwhile, linebacker Colton Jumper, wide receiver Josh Smith, defensive back Micah Abernathy and offensive lineman Marcus Tatum met with the media on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s game.

The Gamecocks are coming off an impressive 48-22 victory over Arkansas.

The question for Tennessee is: has it gotten past the Georgia debacle?

"Georgia is in the past and it's South Carolina now," Smith said. "That's our main focus right now and it has to be that. We can't end our season versus Georgia. We have seven games left. It's a long season and we can still finish with a great record."

It's no secret that the Tennessee-South Carolina game has been extremely competitive over the past five years with every matchup in that span being settled by three points or less. The Vols have come away victorious in three of those contests, including a pair of triumphs at Neyland Stadium in 2013 and 2015.

However, South Carolina earned a signature win over the 18th-ranked Vols last season in Columbia with a 24-21 victory in head coach Will Muschamp's first season with the program.

"It's a big rivalry game and we've been emphasizing that this week," Jumper said. "Over the past few years, these games have come right down to the end. It's always close each year."

One of Tennessee's main priorities during the bye week was to find a cohesive unit up front and give them time to gel. The Vols seem to have found that in the starting five of Drew RichmondBrett KendrickJashon RobertsonTrey Smith and Tatum, who is in line to make his second straight start at right tackle.

Tatum talked about how he has adjusted to being moved into a starting role and what the offensive line is looking to improve on overall.

"The biggest change is being more focused on the details and things like that," Tatum said. "Also, not letting the hype get to you and still practicing like you're competing for a position. Even though I feel like I still am all the time, you still have to give your all in practice no matter what. So never getting too comfortable in a spot is important.

"As a unit, we really just need to be more consistent. We need championship consistency, and that's what Coach [Walt] Wells stresses a lot. We need to keep getting that, and then we'll be good."

Additional Quotes

Linebacker Colton Jumper 

On if any special blitzes have been drawn up for him specifically:
"There's never been like a 'Colton blitz' or anything, but certain blitzes are just designed to defeat certain things, and so it's kind of just worked out that way."

On being able to maintain chemistry between the offensive and defensive side of the ball:
"We're a team, it's not just one side of the ball. So it doesn't matter if one side is doing better, it just comes down to who you are as a team."

On educating the younger players about the competitiveness of the South Carolina game:
"I don't think we really need to tell the younger guys about it because it's an SEC East game. It's a big rivalry game and we've been emphasizing that this week. Over the past few years, these games have come right down to the end. It's always close each year."

Offensive Lineman Marcus Tatum 

On adjusting to being a starter on the offensive line:
"It's been good. The biggest change is being more focused on the details and things like that. Also, not letting the hype get to you and still practicing like you're competing for a position. Even though I feel like I still am all the time, you still have to give your all in practice no matter what. So never getting too comfortable in a spot is important."

On what the offensive line needs to improve on as a whole:
"As a unit, we really just need to be more consistent. We need championship consistency, and that's what Coach Wells stresses a lot. We need to keep getting that, and then we'll be good."

On what the team worked on over the bye week:
"Over the bye week, we just worked on our toughness: going back and getting in full pads and just doing a lot more full team work, just competing against each other and winning our one on one matchups."

Wide Receiver Josh Smith

On looking ahead to South Carolina:
"Georgia is in the past and it's South Carolina now. That's our main focus right now and it has to be that. We can't end our season versus Georgia. We have seven games left. It's a long season and we can still finish with a great record. This team believes in this team. I love this team and I'm ready for South Carolina."

On redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's improvement:
"Jarrett has a good story because he's unselfish. They're both competing and he keeps competing. That just shows his character. I think highly of him and I think he's growing. I think he's just going to keep getting better."

On South Carolina's defense:
"I think their linebackers and defensive backs are strong. Their linebackers are really aggressive. They make plays and they're always around the ball. You have playmakers in the secondary as well. They have the ability to make plays. Last year, they had two picks. They have good ball skills and they're good in the cover game. That's just makes our job that much more important. Our route technique and execution will be huge and that's on us." 

Defensive Back Micah Abernathy

On if the focus of the bye week was to get back to fundamentals:
"Yes, that's what the bye week is for. You get to assess half of your season or almost half of your season, wherever your bye week is, and you get to see what you need to improve on and focus more on that."

On Nigel Warrior's progress as a sophomore:
"I would say every week he is maturing more and more on the field, even off the field and in film room and things like that. Really, it's just maturity."

On if the team uses the 2016 loss to South Carolina as motivation for this week's game:
"We are obviously going to watch the film from last year to see how they attacked us. But that's pretty much it."

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)



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