Does J.T. Shrout give Tennessee football the best chance to win at quarterback?
Harrison Bailey made his much-anticipated starting debut for Tennessee football on Saturday against Florida.
But J.T. Shrout needed only two fourth-quarter drives to make the case he gives the Vols their best chance to win their final two games.
“Just getting him out there getting him going — I thought J.T. done a nice job at the end,” Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said.
Shrout led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter for Tennessee (2-6) in its 31-19 loss to No. 5 Florida (8-1). He finished 12-for-14 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown — a 22-yard score to Velus Jones Jr. in the final minute.
The sophomore battled a right shoulder injury during the week and was not sure if he would play.
“It was kind of up in the air,” Shrout said. “I was told to be ready to go. Just like I am every week. It is just the mentality of being a starter and being ready to go whenever your number is called and make the most out of each opportunity you get.”
Tennessee is 2-0 in games Shrout either started or was the primary quarterback — a stat Shrout was quick to confirm Saturday. In 2019, he led Tennessee to a win against South Carolina after UT opened in the wildcat, then started in a win against UAB the following week.
The Hart, California, native threw an interception on his lone pass attempt and hasn’t had an opportunity this season since.
“The Kentucky game wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but kind of having to stay the course and still prepare the same as if I am going to be the starter,” Shrout said. “I think the outcome was a little bit better (Saturday).”
The Vols have turned to Bailey regularly when Guarantano has struggled. Sophomore Brian Maurer has played sparingly and ineffectively. But Shrout was seemingly relegated to the fourth-string spot.
Pruitt said Bailey and Maurer earned opportunities to play based on performances in UT’s Sunday night scrimmages. Shrout earned his in the past two weeks of practice.
“It kind of came back around to JT,” Pruitt said. “I thought he has taken a lot of advantage of the opportunities he has had. He had a really good week — the last 10 days were really, really good.”
Shrout was the third quarterback to play against Florida behind Bailey and Maurer. Bailey was 14-for-21 passing for 111 yards and a touchdown. Maurer completed his lone pass attempt for 8 yards. Guarantano, who was in COVID-19 contact-tracing protocol for two weeks, was in uniform but did not play.
Shrout entered with Tennessee trailing 31-7, then closed the margin. He threw for two first downs and rushed for another on a 94-yard drive capped by a Ty Chandler rushing touchdown. Then he threw his first touchdown pass this season on fourth down to end a 96-yard drive.
Shrout, who was 13-for-27 passing for 179 yards and a touchdown in four games in 2019, did not indicate if he has considered transferring from Tennessee.
“I am just worried about this season right now and competing with the boys,” Shrout said.
Tennessee is scheduled to play at Vanderbilt on Dec. 12 and close the season against Texas A&M on Dec. 19. Pruitt said future starting quarterback decisions will be made based on “who does the best job that we feel like affects the guys around him.”
Shrout made the case he is that player for Tennessee on Saturday, but deferred the decision to Pruitt.
“I think whoever goes out there, it is coach’s call,” Shrout said. “He is going to put the guys he feels gives us the best chance to win. Harrison, he did a hell of a job (Saturday) as a true freshman making his first start against the (fifth)-ranked team in the country. I think Brian and Jarrett are great players.
“I think any of us can go out there and get the job done when needed.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.