Late in the third quarterback against UMass, Butch Jones decided to make a change.
The timing was odd, but Tennessee’s fifth-year coach thought his team needed some juice.
Jones pulled quarterback Quinten Dormady in favor of redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, and after Tennessee’s uninspiring 17-13 win, Jones stated that he was simply hoping to provide his team with a “spark.”
That didn’t happen.
Tennessee’s offense gained just 10 yards on 11 snaps with Guarantano at quarterback, so Jones turned back to his veteran quarterback to close out the game. Tennessee has actively avoided a QB controversy narrative all offseason, but do the Vols suddenly have one with No. 7 Georgia coming to town this weekend ?
No, per Jones on Monday.
“There’s a lot more pressing topics than the quarterback conversation,” Jones said.
“That’s something that the average person looks at it and says the quarterbacks. The play of the quarterbacks are a byproduct of everyone around them. There’s too much praise when things go well, and too much blame when things don’t go well.”
Dormady finished Saturday’s game with 187 yards and a touchdown, adding a fumble to his stat line, too. He led all three scoring drives, but displayed his inconsistent mechanics and missed on a few explosive play opportunities.
"There’s a lot more pressing topics than the quarterback conversation."
Still, Jones said Monday he “thought Quinten did some very good things."
"Every game is a learning experience. You look at Quinten, he was 5-of-8 in the first quarter, 14-19 in the first half.”
So why did Dormady get yanked then?
On the sidelines Saturday, Jones appeared visibly frustrated when Dormady opted not to run on a 3rd-and-5 in field goal range. The junior quarterback was flushed out of the pocket, and instead of taking the green grass available in front of him, he threw a worm-burner at Ty Chandler’s feet.
Dormady was replaced on the every next series.
While Jones called Guarantano’s snaps “invaluable in his growth and development” on Monday, it certainly seemed like he was sending a message to Dormady in that moment.
For Tennessee’s current offense to function properly, the Vols need Dormday to run the football on a few read options, just to keep opponents’ defensive ends honest. Jones said Tennessee’s read option offense is “evolving” right now, but admitted the quarterback — i.e. Dormady — has to keep the football when opportunities present themselves.
“Like we spoke about last week, there are so many ways to involve the quarterback. It may be with RPOs. He does have a read attached to it. He has a key read attached to it,” Jones explained.
“Whether it’s the zone read or an RPO. But yes, sometimes he has to keep the football. There were a couple of times we thought he should’ve kept the football.”
With Georgia’s Top 10 defense coming to town this Saturday, Tennessee once again appears set to rely on its junior quarterback to lead the offense. Guarantano doesn't appear ready, and although Dormady leads the SEC in turnovers, he's displayed real potential in flashes.
The Vols need Dormady to tap into a consistency he’s yet to showcase this season, but Jones also wants the rest of the offense — the offensive line, receivers and tailbacks — to raise their play, too.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football. Make no mistake about it, we cannot be a one dimensional football team," Jones said.
"We’re not built that way. We have to have great balance."
Tennessee will be without explosive kick returner Evan Berry (hamstring) for the third straight game, but Jones expects two key contributors to return to action this weekend against Georgia.
Jones said Jashon Robertson (concussion) and Shy Tuttle (face injury) should both be back after missing the win over UMass.
He didn’t comment on the status of freshman offensive guard Trey Smith, who tweaked his ankle late in the game Saturday, or linebacker Austin Smith, who has battled a knee injury for more than a month.
Jones anticipates tight ends Ethan Wolf and Jakob Johnson to play against Georgia, but didn’t have a firm update on either senior — both who were hurt in last Saturday’s win.