Tennessee’s quarterback has not always been a fan-favorite, until the Wildcats come to town.
Entering his fourth season as the Volunteers’ starting quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano produces a mixed reaction when his name is brought up to Tennessee fans. At times he might have been public enemy No. 1 in the Volunteer State, like when he took it upon himself to call a quarterback sneak at the one yard-line against Alabama in 2019.
The second search result for Jarrett Guarantano is “Jarrett Guarantano fumble.” Once you follow that search, the second video you’ll find on on YouTube is headlined: “Jeremy Pruitt: Jarrett Guarantano fumble pissed me off.”
Even though he’s made head-scratching plays like that in the past, Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White believes Tennessee’s quarterback is one heck of a football player.
“It starts with his toughness. He’s as tough as a man that I’ve seen at quarterback. He’ll take hits, then he’ll pop back up. There’s no laying on the ground. You can see that his guys rally around him,” said White.
“He’s got good arm strength. He can make the throws. He’s got good pocket awareness. He can slide around the pocket, and at times, just make you miss. He can extend the plays just enough and his eyes are downfield. He’s got a lot of savvy to him. I go back — there’s a toughness factor to him and it sort of bleeds into the rest of their offense and they play tough. They play physical.”
White’s perspective is much different than the average Tennessee fan. Over the last three years Guarantano has been the difference-maker in the border rivalry.
In three career starts against Kentucky, Guarantano has completed 37-of-51 passes, thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions to average a 211.03 passer rating. That passer rating would be ranked second nationally this year and his 72.5 percent completion percentage against UK is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. In the upset win at Neyland Stadium two years ago, Guarantano had the highest-ranked performance of any quarterback in the entire 2018 season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Guarantano vs. Kentucky
- 2017 (29-26 UK win): 18-of-23, 242 yards, 166.6 passer rating
- 2018 (24-7 (UT win): 12-of-20, 197 yards, 2 TDs, 175.7 passer rating
- 2019 (17-13 UT win): 7-of-8, 115 yards, 2 TDs, 290.8 passer rating
Guarantano has played clean football against Kentucky, until the final drive off last year’s game. A fumbled handoff gave Lynn Bowden one final opportunity to drive down the field for the game-winning score before the Tennessee defense made a fourth down stop at the goal line.
The glaring difference in the three previous games against Tennessee is what UK did defensively. Kentucky sacked Guarantano just once apiece in 2019 and 2018. When he was a freshman in 2017, the Wildcats took him to the turf seven times. Outside linebacker Boogie Watson will try to replicate that kind of success this Saturday.
“He’s a very strong competitor. If you knock him down once, he’s going to get right back up and keep playing,” said Watson. “He’s a very tough competitor, can make all the throws. We just gotta try and get after him to make it tough for him.”
The key to a Kentucky victory is making life difficult for Guarantano by forcing Tennessee into obvious passing situations on third and long. Mississippi State averaged third and 8.5 last week on 17 attempts, converting just three times. The only way to make it happen in Knoxville is by having early down success in the run game against the powerful Tennessee offensive line.
“We gotta get stops on first and second so we can hunt on third,” said Boogie.