By STEVE MEGARGEE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt isn’t saying which of his quarterbacks will earn the start Saturday when the Volunteers host No. 3 Georgia.
Pruitt said last week that he was giving equal reps to each of his three scholarship quarterbacks. He offered no update on the quarterback situation Monday.
“We’re not going to give Georgia a scouting report of what we’re going to do this week,′ Pruitt said. “We’re going to rep the guys we feel like give us the best opportunity to have success.”
Pruitt had said throughout the preseason that Guarantano was clearly the best quarterback on Tennessee’s roster. Pruitt continued making those comments through the first few weeks of the season.
But after Guarantano threw two interceptions and missed a wide-open Dominick Wood-Anderson to thwart a potential huge gain against Florida, Pruitt had true freshman Brian Maurer take over for the first three series of the second half. Guarantano did return later in the game.
Pruitt said last week that “there’s no secret, we have to get better production at that position, just like we do for all of them.”
Against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents this season, Guarantano has thrown an equal number of touchdown passes (four) and interceptions. He has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 753 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions overall.
The other two scholarship quarterbacks for Tennessee (1-3, 0-1 SEC) are Maurer and redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout.
Maurer has appeared in two games and has gone 4 of 13 for 44 yards with no touchdown passes and one interception, though he did lead Tennessee’s only scoring drive against Florida. Shrout made his only appearance in a 45-0 blowout of Football Championship Subdivision program Chattanooga and went 3 of 9 for 23 yards with no touchdown passes or interceptions.
Whichever quarterback gets the call Saturday will face his toughest challenge of the season. Georgia (4-0, 1-0) is a 25-point favorite this week and is ranked 13th nationally in pass efficiency defense. The only FBS team Tennessee’s faced thus far that is ranked higher than 99th in pass efficiency defense is Florida (19th).
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked at his Monday news conference if he’d seen enough of Maurer against Florida to know how the freshman might be different from Guarantano.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen enough,” Smart said. “Obviously he’s a really good athlete, but so is Jarrett. They both can run the ball and both do things with that package. I thought he came in and did a good job. The first series he was in there, he did a nice job moving down the field. He is a good athlete. We know him from high school and have seen him play.”
Guarantano already has exceeded his interception total from last year. His regression is puzzling because Tennessee brought in former Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney , who has a reputation for getting the best out of his quarterbacks.
Whenever he talked with reporters during the preseason, Guarantano raved about Chaney and discussed how they’d already built a solid working relationship. Yet for whatever reason, Guarantano hasn’t been able to put it together on Saturdays.
“He had a really good practice last week,” Pruitt said. “That’s not unusual. He’s practiced really well (during) spring and fall camp. I think the big thing with Jarrett is taking it to the game, being consistent, creating the right habits, so that’s something that he’s got to improve on. And taking care of the football is the No. 1 goal.”
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