ETSU Wins After QB Switch. Time For the Vols To Do the Same?

Jarrett Guarantano is 0–7 against the Southeastern Conference.

Marky Billson, host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

All things considered, it’s tough to imagine the Tennessee Volunteers being anything but 2–3 this season no matter the strategy of the coaching staff.

But it is time to ask why this coaching staff seems so firmly entrenched behind Jarrett Guarantano and why they insist on playing so conservatively.

None of the Vols’ games have been close. It’s been so bad Jeremy Pruitt is now talking about how his team didn’t quit after his team cut in to their 24-point deficit to a 12-point deficit.

The problem is then Georgia got the scores back late in the game, ultimately getting the two touchdowns back and handing Tennessee their third 26-point loss of the season.

At least the Vols got under the 30 1/2 point spread!

The Vols faced third down 10 times against Georgia. They converted only two of them.

One of the reasons was because they elected to run the ball on four of the third downs. Another was a short pass on 3rd and long.

It’s one thing for a team to not throw the ball much when East Tennessee State gives them three touchdowns and they have a 56 point lead. It’s another when that team hasn’t led at any point against two Southeastern Conference opponents or West Virginia.

Yet Guarantano has not been asked to throw more than 25 passes in any game of his college career.

Outside of Arkansas’ Ty Storey is there a worse starting quarterback in the SEC? If not, then why is Tennessee playing as if there isn’t?

First-year offensive coordinator Tyson Helton is in his first year as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, coming from Southern California. Based on Helton’s body of work to date, Pruitt hired a Southern California assistant to revive the concept of Tailback U.

Fans ripped Butch Jones and Larry Scott for such conservative play calling, a 30/16 run/pass differential last year in a blowout loss to Alabama, for instance.

What’s changed?

It seems the priority of the 2018 Tennessee Vols is for Guarantano not to fail. Don’t worry about the won-loss record, just make sure all his throws are of the high percentage variety.

Not only has he been asked not to win games despite the presence of an emerging receiving corps, but he’s not been made available for interviews- hardly the best way to prepare a quarterback for the next level or to identify him as a leader.

Meanwhile, Keller Chryst, a graduate transfer who comes from references from everyone from his uncle Paul, Wisconsin’s head coach, to Stanford head coach David Shaw and their tremendous background in developing quarterbacks, languishes on the bench.

Meanwhile a quarterback change has put the East Tennessee State Buccaneers in first place in the Southern Conference.

Okay, that’s the obvious statement. In all honesty Austin Herink didn’t necessarily play that well in his first start of the season.

He completed fewer than half of his passes and on his last five pass attempts of the second half was 0–4 with a sack. ETSU Head coach Randy Sanders played for the safe three score lead when he called for a running play on 3rd and 14 from the Chattanooga 21 up 14–0 in the second quarter.

Which, considering the fact Herink was only completing 50 percent of his passes at that point in the game and had been sacked and hurried was sensible strategy.

But Herink’s presence was inspiring. When he connected with Quay Holmes for a 54-yard touchdown on the Bucs’ second drive of the game the feeling was something had changed.

Forget Herink. The real breakout player for the Bucs’ is RB Quay Holmes

Meanwhile a stellar run defense held the Mocs to less than 50 yards rushing. Prior to the game Chattanooga had averaged four yards a run.

This season’s Southern Conference is unpredictable. Witness ETSU winning their last two games despite being a 17 1/2 and 14 1/2 point underdog.

The Bucs have gone from being thought of as a team that would finish 2–9 in just to a team that will disappoint if they do not have a winning record in just six quarters. There are still plenty of questions at quarterback, but at 4–1 it’s a safe bet the Bucs will win more games than the Vols this season.

Unfortunately, since the lone Bucs loss was the 59–3 loss to Tennessee, the perception for many in the Tri-Cities will be ETSU at its highest point is still eight touchdowns less than the Vols at their lowest.

Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities. Click on the link to listen live or watch archives here and here.

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