Rocky Topics: Rocky Topics: Can a change at quarterback change the direction of the season?

In this week's edition of Rocky Topics, Gray LaRose and Caleb Souders discuss whether or not a change at quarterback can change the direction of the season.

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Photo by Ben Proffitt.

As Tennessee prepares for this weekends matchup against South Carolina, Caleb Souders and Gray LaRose discuss what Butch Jones’ decision to name Jarrett Guarantano the starter means for the state of Tennessee’s program going forward.

Souders: I think this is the best decision Butch Jones has made all year long. This is very reminiscent of when Jones sent Worley to the bench in place of Josh Dobbs in 2014, and I’m not sure whether that is good-or-bad news for Jones.

Without Dobbs at quarterback, Jones is 11-13 in his career at Tennessee. Sure, that includes Jones’ first year when he went 5-7, but what has he done without Dobbs to prove that he can be a successful coach at Tennessee? At what point does this offense prove it is incapable of working in the SEC? Sure, Tennessee had lots of success last year with the offense, but in crucial, must-win games, the offense sputtered. Dobbs masked a lot of flaws of this Butch Jones led offense last year, but can Guarantano do the same this year?

Will Guarantano step in on Saturday at noon to prove he can be the face of the program moving forward? I sure hope he can show flashes of success, because up until this point of the season, the coaching staff has done nothing to help the young quarterback progress. Guarantano has had several drives this year that could be thrown up as flukes due to playcalling.

Since Gurantano’s emotional debacle on the sideline at the Georgia Tech game to open the year, offensive coordinator Larry Scott admitted to the media this week Guarantano has done a great job “understanding how to focus, how to be a great teammate … to be a great quarterback.”

LaRose: I agree with Caleb that this weekend’s matchup is the right time for Jones to make the swap to Guarantano. As much as I believed in Dormady’s ability to be a SEC quarterback, he just hasn’t had that breakthrough moment yet, where it all just clicks together.

For Guarantano, this weekend’s game is the time to show all of Vol Nation that he is more than a highly touted recruit, but that he is capable of being a great teammate and quarterback. With the unstable and ever changing state of Tennessee football resting on this weekend’s game against South Carolina, this fan base could use a stellar performance from the freshman as he receives his first start under center. A big win from Guarantano could help mend the fanbase and unite the University behind Jones and this staff.

As for what it means for the future of Tennessee’s program? That will have to wait until after Saturday’s game. I’d like to believe that Guarantano will be this staff’s “saving grace,” similar to the way Dobbs was last season. However, I just am not sure if the young quarterback is quite ready for the spotlight and the pressure of carrying an SEC program on his shoulders.

Souders: Butch Jones’ decision to move forward with Guarantano almost guarantees he will start the entire first half. Jones is known to stick with a guy and give him the opportunity to earn the starting role going forward, as everybody saw how stubborn he was with Dormady the first half of the season.

As for the remainder of the season, Jones will need to show he is capable of making strides on the offensive side of the ball in particular. The Vols were shutout in their last home game against the Georgia Bulldogs, and it was their worst deficit in program history. Jones is at the helm for the Volunteers and nobody will be blamed more for failure the rest of the season going forward than he will. If Jones wants to attempt to salvage what could be the inevitable, he will need Guarantano to have a huge game on Saturday versus South Carolina.

LaRose: As for the decision to replace Dormady with Guarantano, it’s a last ditch effort for this offense to create a spark. We all knew the Volunteers had to replace several key players on the offensive side of the ball heading into the season, which has been some of the reason the offense has struggle to this point. But nobody expected it to be this bad.

With the emergence of John Kelly, the Tennessee has a solid rushing attack to assist whoever is under center. The Vols also have an array of talent at receiver, even with the season-ending injury to Jennings. With a little spark, I believe this Volunteers offense can turn it around this season and maybe finish out the year 8-4. If so, the future of Tennessee’s program will be in good hands with Guarantano going forward.

All-in-all, this weekend will determine a lot for Guarantano and this Tennessee program. A big win could propel team 121’s turn-around, hopefully changing the future of the program. A loss, and who knows what the future could hold for the fans on Rocky Top.

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