Guarantano must prove his worth on the field

Friday, September 15, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 37

Jarrett Guarantano, left, and Quinten Dormady both played against Indiana State, with Dormady performing better. He is expected to start Saturday at Florida, which is scheduled to kick off at 2:30 p.m. on CBS.

-- Jerry Denham | The Ledger

Two games into the season, Quinten Dormady has established himself as Tennessee’s quarterback. For now.

As we have learned in four previous seasons with Butch Jones as coach, everything is subject to change. Both at UT and in previous coaching stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Jones has not been afraid to change quarterbacks when the mood strikes.

At the moment, though, Dormady is the man.

First, he rallied from a poor first half to guide the Vols to a comeback, double-overtime victory against Georgia Tech in the opener. Second, he recovered from another slow start to put up good numbers in the easy win against outmanned Indiana State.

So far, Jarrett Guarantano has done nothing on the field to create a true quarterback controversy. While it is unfair to say Dormady won the job by default, it is clear that Guarantano has plenty to prove before he earns significant playing time.

After spending much of the preseason commenting on how close the quarterback competition was, Jones took some unwarranted criticism for failing to work Guarantano into the opening game. In hindsight, it appears Jones knew exactly what he was doing.

Based on the way Guarantano performed in his college debut against Indiana State, he simply wasn’t ready. Guarantano misfired on his first four throws before completing a screen pass to John Kelly for an 18-yard gain. A couple of his incompletions weren’t even close.

A few wasted series like that against Georgia Tech might have left the Vols out of reach of a comeback victory.

Let’s be clear: Unquestionably, Guarantano has talent. He has a strong arm and mobility. He can be a good college quarterback once he settles down and gets a bit more experience.

For now, though, he’s still finding his way. Dormady clearly gives the Vols a better chance to win as they enter the toughest portion of their schedule.

Even so, Guarantano remains the favorite among many UT fans. It’s nothing new that a lot of fans gravitate to the backup quarterback. That is particularly true with Guarantano, who is one of Tennessee’s highest-rated quarterback signees in years. The expectations grew when he redshirted as a freshman last season.

But Guarantano hasn’t done himself any favors so far.

As the UT-Georgia Tech game wore on, and it became apparent Jones was sticking with Dormady, Guarantano’s body language on the sidelines spoke volumes. He often was observed slumped on the bench, appearing disengaged from his team and the game.

It’s fair to wonder if Guarantano was mentally prepared enough to step in and perform had Dormady had gotten hurt.

Meanwhile, Dormady is far from a finished product. He has avoided big mistakes, for the most part, but you just can’t throw an interception in the end zone, as he did in the third quarter against Indiana State. Too often, he locks in on one receiver instead of reading the coverage and finding the open man.

Moving forward, the X-factor in all this is Jones’ approach toward the position. He’s never been afraid to make a change if he believes it is merited. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it backfires.

When Jones was coach at Cincinnati in 2011, he played both senior Zach Collaros and sophomore Munchie Legaux. The two quarterbacks helped take the Bearcats to a 10-3 record and a share of the Big East title.

Since arriving at UT in 2013, Jones has tended to err on the side of seniority with quarterbacks.

The time he waffled was the Florida game in ’13 when he opted for Nathan Peterman, a redshirt freshman, over junior Justin Worley, who had started the three previous games.

QB Jarrett Guarantano misfired on his first four throws in the game against Indiana State. Quinten Dormady, meanwhile, completed 13 of 18 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

-- Jerry Denham | The Ledger

It was a disaster. Playing amid the raucous surroundings of The Swamp, Peterman was totally out of his depth. He played poorly and was injured. Jones finally inserted Worley into the game, and he played reasonably well in a tough environment.

Worley reclaimed the starting job until he hurt his thumb later in the season and underwent surgery.

As for that Florida game in 2013, where was Joshua Dobbs? Then a true freshman, Dobbs did not make the travel squad to Gainesville. The explanation was that Dobbs simply was not performing well enough in practice.

Worley was firmly entrenched as the starter in 2014, his senior season. It was only when he suffered a torn labrum at Ole Miss that a change was made.

Again, Jones went with seniority. He turned to Peterman, a redshirt sophomore at the time, against Alabama. Dobbs, a true sophomore, was ticketed for a redshirt season.

But Peterman was ineffective against the Crimson Tide in the first two offensive series as the Vols quickly fell behind. Jones really had no choice.

Dobbs entered the game and wound up throwing for 192 yards and running for 75 more. After that, Dobbs started all 30 games before graduating after the 2016 season.

I never understood why it took so long for Dobbs to get his shot. Although the Vols have employed three different offensive coordinators during Jones’ tenure, it’s clear that the head coach’s fingerprints are all over the offense. And one of the constants in Jones’ offense is the zone-read play, where a quarterback’s ability as a runner is key.

With all due respect to Worley, he was a liability as a runner. He was a solid passer but far from superior.

As for Dobbs, he left UT as the most productive running quarterback in the program’s history – by far. What if he had gotten more opportunities in his first two college seasons?

As for current events, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out at quarterback. For what it’s worth, history tells us that the quarterback who starts the season doesn’t always finish it at Tennessee.

Reach David Climer at and on Twitter @DavidClimer.