Tennessee football plans to stick with Harrison Bailey, J.T. Shrout at quarterback

Blake Toppmeyer
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee will continue with Harrison Bailey and J.T. Shrout as its top quarterback options when the Vols (2-6) play Vanderbilt (0-8) on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network) in Nashville.

Bailey, a freshman from Marietta, Georgia, made his first career start in a 31-19 loss to Florida on Saturday. Shrout entered during the fourth quarter and led two long touchdown drives.

Brian Maurer also entered for two plays, and he’ll continue to have a spot in the game plan.

Out of the mix is fifth-year senior Jarrett Guarantano, a 32-game career starter who had started every game this season before Saturday.

“With Harrison and J.T., (they) will take the majority of the reps moving forward,” coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday. “Brian brings kind of an extra element with his athleticism and just trying to keep him with a role, and I thought he done a nice job Saturday with the role that he had. We’ll continue doing that.”

Pruitt applauded the fact that Tennessee’s three quarterbacks who played Saturday didn’t have any turnovers. Costly blunders played a prominent role in Guarantano’s struggles this season. He had three interceptions returned for touchdowns, including one during a pivotal third-quarter swing in a 30-17 loss to Auburn on Nov. 21, which looks like it will be the final start in Guarantano’s Tennessee career.

Related:The Jarrett Guarantano era appears over at Tennessee, but what about the Jeremy Pruitt era?

Guarantano also lost two fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and threw an interception in a Oct. 10 loss to Georgia.

Pruitt said Saturday that Guarantano didn’t practice leading up to the Florida game, but he was in uniform. The Vols had several players unable to practice following the Auburn game because of quarantine due to contact tracing from a few positive COVID-19 tests.

Although Guarantano is available for the Vanderbilt game, Pruitt said he plans to stick with a similar quarterback approach as it used against Florida. That means Guarantano is now fourth string.

More:Does J.T. Shrout give Tennessee football the best chance to win at quarterback?

Tennessee traveled just three of its four scholarship quarterbacks for its two previous road games.

Bailey finished 14-of-21 passing for 111 yards and a touchdown against Florida. Most of his success came during the first half and on throws where the receiver was close to the line of scrimmage or behind it.

“I thought Harrison showed some poise in stepping up and scrambling and making some plays there,” Pruitt said. “I felt like he handled the signaling from the game, the communication with the O-line, the wide receivers.”

Shrout was 12-of-14 for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

Shrout’s success came during the fourth quarter in a lopsided game, but Florida still had key defensive players on the field, and Pruitt said the timing of Shrout’s success doesn’t cheapen it in his eyes.

“I can assure you, Florida was trying to stop us and (Florida coach) Dan (Mullen) was going to try to score more points,” Pruitt said.

Shrout opened the season as Tennessee’s backup quarterback, and he entered for a series during an Oct. 17 game against Kentucky. But he threw an interception in his lone attempt and plummeted to fourth string for several weeks before reclaiming the backup job for the Florida game.

He injured his right throwing shoulder last week in practice but showed no ill effects. He threw one of the day’s best passes when he found Velus Jones Jr. for a 22-yard touchdown.

Shrout, a sophomore, has one career start. It came last season in a victory over UAB, and he also played most of the first half in last season’s win over South Carolina.

“He had a really good fall camp this fall, and the couple of plays that he played against Kentucky, it wasn’t his best, but he’s continued to work hard,” Pruitt said. “Like I said last week, he had a really good 10 days of practice leading up to the game Saturday. That was good to see.”

Tennessee injury report

Tennessee offensive linemen Cade Mays and K'Rojhn Calbert are expected to be sidelined from practice early this week after suffering lower leg injuries during Saturday's game. Pruitt expects them to return to practice later this week.

Mays has started the past seven games at right guard, while Calbert is a reserve.

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.