Could Tennessee football have new starting QB vs. Florida because of contact tracing?

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

One of Tennessee football’s quarterbacks has been affected by COVID-19 contact-tracing protocols, Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday.

Pruitt did not name the quarterback.

“These guys who are out there practicing, they are working hard to create chemistry with our guys,” Pruitt said. “We will continue to do that this week.”

Tennessee (2-5) faces No. 5 Florida (7-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).

The Vols had two positive COVID-19 tests after their 30-17 loss at Auburn on Nov. 17. Pruitt said Tennessee has about 16 players affected by contact tracing that he expects will “start coming back in here toward the end of the week.” He believes some quarantining players will play against the Gators despite not practicing.

He did not say whether that is the case with the quarterback, which could mean Tennessee uses a new starting quarterback for the first time this season if the one affected is Jarrett Guarantano. The senior has started all seven games this season.

Tennessee’s three backups have all played this season during Tennessee’s five-game losing streak.

Freshman Harrison Bailey has gotten the most playing time as a reserve. He got his most extensive action of the season at Auburn, when he replaced Guarantano in the second half.

“Harrison is a smart guy that has worked really hard,” Pruitt said. “It has been more about opportunities and getting live opportunities. He has had a chance to do more and more of that as the season has went.”

Bailey was 7-for-10 passing for 86 yards and led a touchdown drive against Auburn. Bailey, the highly regarded freshman, also played against Kentucky and Arkansas.

He is 14-for-23 passing for 175 yards. He threw two interceptions in UT’s 24-13 loss to Arkansas.

“He works hard every single day,” Pruitt said. “He is developing more of a leadership (presence) around the rest of his teammates. That is part of being a quarterback is getting the other 10 guys to be at their best. He continues to do what we ask him to do.”

Guarantano has completed 62% of his passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions. 

Guarantano has accounted for more points for Tennessee’s opponents than he has for Tennessee in his past nine halves of football after throwing a devastating interception that was returned for a score at Auburn. He has thrown two touchdowns and rushed for one compared to three pick-sixes and a fumble for a touchdown since halftime against Georgia.

Pruitt said after UT lost at Auburn that Guarantano "absolutely" still gives Tennessee its best chance to win.

“He's done a lot of really good things for us in the game,” Pruitt said on Nov. 23 of Guarantano's game at Auburn. “Made a lot of good checks for us, got us in the right runs; these guys were shifting in and out of fronts. That's important in the quarterback position.”

Guarantano has been replaced in two games, including at Auburn. He also was yanked against Kentucky in favor of J.T. Shrout, who threw an interception on his lone pass attempt of the season. Guarantano re-entered. 

Sophomore Brian Maurer played in the fourth quarter against Alabama and was the first choice off the bench when Guarantano suffered an apparent head injury against Arkansas on Nov. 7.

Maurer, who started four games in 2019, struggled and was replaced by Bailey.

Pruitt said it “would be hard to play anybody” after missing close to two weeks of practice. He noted defensive backs Warren Burrell and Jaylen McCollough played sparingly against South Carolina on Sept. 26 after returning from contact-training protocols.

“It is not ideal,” Pruitt said. “But the one thing about it is when you are in contact tracing, you can still work out and still stay in shape. You can do the things; it just has to be in a confined environment. They get a chance to watch the meetings via Zoom, so they get a look at the game plan. They are just not experiencing the reps out there.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.