Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK
Tennessee got blown out by the Kentucky Wildcats in Neyland Stadium this afternoon, hitting a low point of the 2020 season. It was the first Kentucky win in Knoxville since 1984, bringing a number of questions to the surface for the Tennessee football program.
Here are some rapid and unorganized thoughts from the day.
Jarrett Guarantano might actually be Tennessee “best chance to win” and that’s a reflection of this staff’s ability to develop quarterbacks.
Guarantano is what he is. I’ve written that line several times now — and it’s true. He’s not going to change. The Tennessee staff keeps trotting him out there and Jeremy Pruitt keeps telling us that he’s Tennessee’s best shot to win games.
That may be true, considering J.T. Shrout’s brief playing time today.
That doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable.
This staff has had Guarantano for three years. Has he gotten any better? Has Shrout or Brian Maurer? The answer is no — and that’s a direct reflection of quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and ultimately, head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Tennessee has actually done a good job of recruiting the position lately, landing Harrison Bailey and Kaidon Salter. But judging on the results of the last three years, do you have any confidence in their ability to develop them? It’s unbelievable that Guarantano is still Tennessee’s best option at this point, but I do actually believe Pruitt when he says that. It doesn’t make it acceptable though.
The Volunteers are a position away from being a respectable, top 15 program. Unfortunately, that’s the most important position on the field. And it’s absolutely crippling this program.
It’s fair to question Jeremy Pruitt.
Pruitt was given the keys to Tennessee football. He was given the ability to go hire whoever he wanted — and his offensive staff has done nothing to develop this roster. Tennessee’s offensive line has been a let down, and we’ve already touched on the quarterback position.
Bottomline is this — these are Pruitt’s guys and things aren’t getting any better. It’s year three, and the same issues continue to be a problem. Pruitt’s work on the defensive side of the ball has been masterful, but the offense (particularly the quarterback position) hasn’t come close to matching that progress. We’re talking about a fifth-year senior quarterback that hasn’t made any progress, along with a second and third year guy who have failed to even challenge him for the job.
Especially for a defensive-minded head coach, the lack of offensive progress is alarming.
It’s early in the (weird) season and he just got an extension. I’m not saying he should be on the hot seat. But it’s time to start showing something on the offensive side. And if it’s going to be more of the same, it’s time to show a willingness to make a change at the quarterback position.
I feel bad for the defense.
The defense, God bless them, did everything they could to keep Tennessee in this game early on. After not giving up a single point, the defense found themselves down 14-0 in the second quarter, through no fault of their own.
Jarrett Guarantano ended up gifting Kentucky 17 free points, while the Tennessee offense generated just one touchdown in the first half. The offense came out even flatter (somehow) in the second half.
This defense deserves better. Derrick Ansley’s group played really well today and simply got worn down because the offense couldn’t stay on the field.
Hats off to Henry To’o To’o, who once again played his tail off today, but received no help from the other side of the ball.
Alabama up next.
There are no breaks in 2020. Tennessee has so many questions heading into next week, and they have Nick Saban’s death star coming to town. Do you roll Guarantano back out there? Do you trust J.T. Shrout at all? Or do you start the Harrison Bailey era.
The problems go deeper too. Can this offensive line live up to its five-star billing? It hasn’t so far.
How will Jeremy Pruitt’s program respond? Will they fold up shop and go home, or fight for their lives? It’s going to be incredibly difficult to show progress against Alabama, which just makes everything that much worse.