Guarantano, who started six of the Vols’ final seven games as a redshirt freshman last year, capped Tennessee’s spring practice Saturday by throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the Orange and White game. Now he must try to hold off a challenge from Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst, who will arrive on campus this summer.
Tennessee’s only other scholarship quarterbacks are Will McBride and incoming freshman JT Shrout. The Vols open the season Sept. 1 against West Virginia in Charlotte, N.C.
“We’ll know who our quarterback is probably when we go to Charlotte,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “About halfway through the fourth quarter, we’ll have a good idea of who our quarterback is at that point.”
The quarterback issue is just one of many questions facing Pruitt, the former Alabama defensive coordinator who is beginning his head coaching career by trying to rejuvenate Tennessee’s program. UT fired Butch Jones last year during a 4-8 season in which the Vols set a school record for losses and went winless in Southeastern Conference competition.
Pruitt said Saturday plenty of work remains to be done. Asked to measure how well the players have grasped the new staff’s offense and defense, Pruitt said they “would probably get about a D.”
“Some guys competed pretty hard. They may not be doing things perfect, but they’re headed in the right direction, something you can build off of,” Pruitt said. “And then I saw a couple of guys out there today that just flat-out quit. You can call it what you want to. I’m going to say they quit because that’s what I saw.”
No players or assistant coaches were made available to the media after the game. That included Guarantano, who wasn’t made available to reporters all spring.
Guarantano went 15-of-27 passing with touchdowns to Marquez Callaway and Eli Wolf and the Orange team defeated the White squad 34-7. He was named the game’s most valuable player.
This game represented an opportunity for Guarantano to make an impression on Tennessee’s new staff before Chryst joins the competition. Chryst started seven games for Stanford last season before getting replaced by K.J. Costello .
The Orange team featured the projected No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense and the White had the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense. The White squad was missing projected starting linebackers Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Daniel Bituli, who returned from injuries late in spring practice but didn’t play Saturday.
McBride, who started one game in place of an injured Guarantano as a freshman last year, directed the White offense and went 6-for-8 for 71 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Pruitt noted that McBride may have been hindered by the fact the Orange team outrushed the White 134-14.
Pruitt added that Saturday’s scrimmage merely reflected “one day’s work” and isn’t necessarily “a true indication of how spring actually went.”
Even though Tennessee is coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in school history, Saturday’s scrimmage had an announced attendance of 65,098. That figure might have been a tad generous, though; the upper level of the 102,455-seat stadium was virtually empty.
Pruitt saw room for improvement in that regard as well.
“The ones that were here, I’m proud they were here,” Pruitt said. “They’re fired up. They’re ready to get going. And then there were some people that wasn’t here that had legitimate reasons they couldn’t be here. And then there were some people that wasn’t here, that (you wonder) why wasn’t they here. It’s kind of like our football team. I think we all need to look in the mirror and see who we want to be.”