It is hard to believe that a week after such a stellar performance that Jarrett Guarantano’s grip on the quarterback position would start to slip. Yet, after a respectable performance by his replacement, here we are.
The 58-21 drubbing by No. 1 Alabama on Saturday in no way should serve as an indictment against Guarantano’s capability of leading this offense going forward. However, what was revealed was a glimpse of what Keller Chryst can do against elite competition.
The graduate transfer from Stanford saw the most action he has seen since last October when he led his former team to a victory over Oregon State. Chryst didn’t waste any time making his presence felt against the No. 1 team in the country. The former Cardinal entered when Guarantano got knocked out of the game by Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson.
Chryst came in with just under nine minutes to go in the first half. At that point, the Vols had only managed to gain five total yards. Yes, five! Out of five drives, the longest was an eight play, 33-yard drive that resulted in a punt. The rest yielded negative yardage. The Crimson Tide defense suffocated Guarantano. He did however, manage to complete a 30-yard pass to Josh Palmer on the play that knocked him out.
After a handing the ball off on his first play, Chryst found the end zone just two plays later. Both plays were passes completed to Ty Chandler. The quarterback kept up the pace for the rest of the quarter and ended the half 5-of-7 for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Perhaps the most glaring difference between the two Tennessee quarterbacks is Chryst’s quick release and decision making versus Guarantano’s inability to do the same. Other than that, the two are very similar in terms of their skill set. The receivers appear to produce the same either way, which comes as no surprise seeing as how they are the best unit on the team.
The question going forward is how much more playing time should Chryst see? Our Trey Wallace reports that there are no major concerns with Guarantano’s health at this point. But, regardless of Guarantano’s availability, Jeremy Pruitt has a tough decision to make heading into the South Carolina game.
Chryst’s performance against an elite defense should, at the very least, warrant consideration for earning a chance to start. What does Tennessee have to lose? Both quarterbacks offer the same abilities. In fact, their career numbers are pretty similar. Guarantano has thrown for 2,189 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Chryst has thrown for 2,203 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Their quarterback rating is 138.6 and 133, respectively.
Guarantano is obviously more accurate, which is apparent in his 62.4 completion percentage. Chryst has a more moderate percentage with 55.5. Seven percentage points is a pretty big gap, but Chryst’s tendency to make quicker reads and decisions might be what this offense needs the most right now. The offense is already hamstrung by the offensive line. The fewer negative plays, the better. Not to mention, Guarantano is lucky to not have any serious injuries with the way he has lingered in the pocket. It is commendable, but risky for both him and the offense.
It is safe to say that Vols’ receiving corps is the best Chryst has ever had. The North Carolina native had big receivers in Palo Alto just as he has here in Knoxville. But the unit he currently works with is more dynamic and athletic. It will be interesting to see how much more accurate and successful he will be working with Tennessee’s best weapons. Based on his performance against a juggernaut, there may not be a drop in production. If anything, it might be an upgrade. It doesn’t mean Chryst is a significantly better option than Guarantano, but he is a different one. One that can make strides with this offense just as Guarantano has.
What do they have to lose?