Here’s how bad Tennessee’s 2017 season is going — currently, the Vols are a double-digit underdog against a 4-5 Missouri team.
That’s because the Vols are 4-5 themselves, including an 0-5 conference record and one of the nation’s least productive offenses.
Meanwhile, the hurricane of off-field rumors regarding the coaching search have transformed into a necessary distraction from the on-field product. At this point, the word “Grumor” has probably been tweeted more than “Tennessee touchdown.”
Plenty has gone wrong for the Orange and White this season, but the situation that dominated the offseason narrative was the quarterback competition. Jones sided with Quinten Dormady, but never fully committed to the junior out of Texas.
Once the Dormady experiment ran its course, Jones ushered in the Jarrett Guarantano era against South Carolina, begging the question; Would this season look much different now had Guarantano started against Georgia Tech?
In seven games, Guarantano has only thrown for 575 yards, one touchdown, and has taken a plethora of unnecessary sacks. The redshirt freshman did not lead the Vols on a touchdown drive until his third start against Kentucky, a game which Tennessee lost.
Despite the struggles, Guarantano showed flashes of brilliance against the Gamecocks, was solid against the Wildcats, and never had a chance against Alabama, so we’ll give him a pass there.
However, in all likelihood, it really doesn’t matter if Guarantano had started the first five games of the Vols’ season. Because no matter how talented he is, Tennessee’s problems aren’t player-based — they’re based on what the coaches fail to accomplish from Sunday through Friday.
With Guarantano’s mobility, pairing him in a backfield with John Kelly, Ty Chandler, and Carlin Fils-Aime should give Tennessee one of the nation’s most feared rushing attacks. The key part of that sentence, however, is the word “should.” Knowing Jones’ history of mismanaging talented runners, he never would’ve learned his lesson, no many how many times the solution slapped him in the face.
How do we know this? Let’s just take a gander at last season, when Jones had Joshua Hobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara all in the same backfield. The Vols’ offense sure put up points — against the likes of Kentucky and Missouri, but couldn’t score enough against South Carolina or Vanderbilt.
Would Guarantano’s presence have changed Jones’ curious approach to goal-line situations against Florida?
Would Guarantano’s presence have changed Jones’ philosophy around balancing the pass and the run?
Would Guarantano’s presence have changed how many times Marquez Callaway has been targeted? Or Tyler Byrd’s lack of playing time?
The answer to all of those questions is undoubtedly no.
It’s exactly why Jones won’t be in Knoxville in 2018. But let’s take a look at the bright side — if Currie lands a competent head coach, then Tennessee’s offense should be scoring again, which would bring the program one step closer to being great again.