TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jarrett Guarantano had every reason to feel overwhelmed Saturday, and perhaps even intimidated.
Guarantano, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound redshirt freshman, was making his first road start against a No. 1-ranked Alabama team loaded on defense.
The Vols had no run game to balance their offense, putting the pressure on Guarantano on each snap throughout the 45-7 loss to the Crimson Tide.
Guarantano was 9-of-16 passing for 44 yards with an interception, and he ran seven times for 22 yards but was sacked four times for minus-34 yards.
“There are some things I did well, and there are things I need to get better on,” Guarantano said Saturday night, asked to assess his performance. “Just know that nobody was scared, nobody was nervous, nobody feared anybody.
“We have 35 days left and for 35 days we’re going going to give our all for Tennessee. They’re going to be a magical 35 days in this program.”
Guarantano’s toughness and resilience cannot be denied, even on consecutive afternoons when his receivers have been.
The Vols’ young receivers have struggled against press coverage in each of the past three games, leading to UT quarterbacks having to hold the ball or in Guarantano’s case, tuck it and run.
Marquez Callaway was the Vols’ leading receiver at Alabama with three catches for 14 yards, and Brandon Johnson was the only other receiver to catch a pass, gaining 6 yards.
“We’re just gonna need to make plays on the outside and make plays in general,” Guarantano said. “I’m going to have to step up and be the player I should be and I’m supposed to be.”
Guarantano’s toughness is impressing his teammates.
“You watch film of Alabama they are going to hit every quarterback, and that’s their M.O.,” Vols fifth-year senior offensive lineman Brett Kendrick said. “They hit them, and they hit them aggressively. They got a flag for it, but that didn’t slow them down.
“They want to knock the quarterback out and play against the backup quarterback, and they did a great job, but JG did a great job of coming back every time.”
Guarantano said he feels the team is pulling closer together.
“It’s a very angry locker room, but in a positive way, (because) you’re supposed to be hurt after this loss,” Guarantano said. “If this doesn’t make us tighter, than there’s something wrong.
“I feel in the locker room that everybody is coming together very well and we’re going to be a group that loves each other and continues to do so.”