Tennessee quarterback’s Jarrett Guarantano’s goalline fumble and Alabama defensive back Trevon Diggs’ 100-yard scoop and score will go down as one of the most cringe-inducing moments Vols fans have witnessed on the Third Saturday in October.
Was it improvisation or miscommunication?
The evidence on the field points to a poor decision by Guarantano, who replaced concussed starter Brian Maurer in the first quarter. The post-game reaction — after the coach and players have time to regroup — points to miscommunication. No matter who or what is to blame, all can agree it was a jarring moment that had the potential to give the Vols legitimate reason to believe they could pull off a massive upset of the nation’s No. 1-ranked team had it gone their way.
“It pissed me off,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We just put a great drive together, OK, and really ran the ball at will down through there. I would’ve liked to see us get the ball in there and seen what we could have done. There are a lot of things that didn’t go our way in the game. Some of it we controlled. Some of it we didn’t. So we’ll watch the tape, learn from it and go from there.”
Trailing 28-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Tennessee had gone 66 yards in 13 plays before the fourth-and-goal play on the 1-yard line. The Vols had tried to run it on the first, second and third downs and lined up to do so again.
Guarantano broke the huddle and hurried to the line. Though Alabama was packed in front of Vols center Brandon Kennedy, Guarantano got the snap and immediately jumped to reach the ball across the goal line.
He fumbled into the end zone, and Diggs picked it up then ran to his right around the crowd and up the sideline untouched all the way to the end zone. Rather than cutting their deficit to one score, the Vols trailed by three scores.
Their chance at an upset was gone. Left guard Trey Smith pulled on the play — something he would not have done if the play call had been for a quarterback sneak.
“I don’t really know what happened there in the backfield,” Kennedy said. “When we left the huddle, we had one called, but I’m not sure what happened.”
Pruitt met Guarantano near the sideline, gave him a tongue lashing and briefly put two fingers on Guarantano’s face mask.
Pruitt appeared to have a problem with Guarantano’s decision-making, but after the game he stopped short of throwing his former starting quarterback under the bus.
“We’re close down there on the goal line so you’ve got an opportunity to run the sneak or give the ball there to (Quavaris Crouch) again,” Pruitt said. “There was some miscommunication out there. And that’s our fault. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s the coaches’ fault, OK, starting with me.
“It’s no reason to hurry up. The ball is this far from the line. We ran two quarterback sneaks earlier in the game by pushing the pile and our guys, they dented the front a little bit right there. So, talking about it there on the sideline, we could either go back with it and run the sneak and we elected to run a sneak. Shouldn’t have jumped over the top. Should’ve pushed it there in the middle.”
Guarantano, who was 7-for-16 for 55 yards, did not take another snap. Pruitt sent third-stringer J.T. Shrout in for the rest of the game, though after the game he said it had nothing to do with Guarantano. With the Vols trailing by 22 points, Pruitt said he wanted Shrout to get experience to “see what he can do.”
Saturday marked the second game in a row Maurer left with a concussion, which brings questions to who could start for the Vols in Saturday’s home game against South Carolina.
“They’re evaluating Brian,” Pruitt said. “So we’ll see what happens. Jarrett did some really nice things while he was in the game. So we’ll go back and just reevaluate like we do every week.”