Ray: It is Time For Harrison Bailey, Here Is Why

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2020. What more can be said. Tennessee started the season 2-0 and seemed poised to make it clear that they are back and ready to compete. Since taking a 21-17 lead into halftime against Georgia, the Vols have been outscored 61-7 by their opponents over six quarters. During that span, the Vols have committed seven turnovers, three of which went for defensive scores. Jarrett Guarantano received credit for all but one of those turnovers. That is not to say it was necessarily all his fault, as there were breakdowns in protection, missed assignments, and a running back running into him to force one of the fumbles. But, the fact remains, he is the quarterback, and shouldering that responsibility is just part of the job. Guarantano is in his fifth season, and despite his toughness, desire to be a Tennessee Vol, and respect from his teammates, he can not get out of his own way. 

Jeremy Pruitt now finds himself in a precarious position, as he faces questions from the Tennessee faithful regarding his persistence to play Jarrett Guarantano time and time again. Pruitt has said Guarantano "gives us our best opportunity to win games," but at this point, it seems he is causing Tennessee to lose games instead. The questions around Pruitt's choice are well-founded. But before we go down this rabbit hole, let me be clear; I unequivocally think Jeremy Pruitt is the right man for the job. That said, I have flipped back-and-forth on writing this all weekend because it is rational to think that turning to a true Freshman who has received limited practice reps should not be thrust into the fire against Alabama for a 3:30 CBS kick-off, but it is time for Harrison Bailey, and I am going to explain why.  

The SEC East is Essentially out of Reach

The math will disagree with me here because if Tennessee were to run the table, the Vols would have to have some help, but they could find a way to Atlanta, at least, until they play Alabama this weekend. Pruitt placed his trust in the fifth-year senior to lead, what many expected to be his best team since arriving in Knoxville, but Guarantano was unable to do so. The goal of the Tennessee program is to compete for the SEC East and be a national contender year in and year out. Guarantano no longer gives you said opportunity. Bailey was recruited to Tennessee to be the future of this program, and after a devastating loss to Kentucky that all but ended your 2020 SEC East hopes, it is time to turn towards the future. 

Your Offense is the Best it Could be for this Scenario

Tennessee's offense has the weapons for a Freshman to succeed. Eric Gray and Ty Chandler are able to churn out consistent yardage behind an offensive line that has produced solid results outside of the Georgia game. The Vols should be able to take the pressure off of Bailey by producing positive results in the early snaps. Tennessee has used a variety of receivers, which bodes well for an opportunity like this. I have covered Bailey more than fifteen times since his Junior season of high school, even before he committed to Tennessee, and he is used to working through progressions and hitting his third and fourth options if needed. Which leads me into my next point.

Your Offensive Coordinator Makes 1.6 Million Dollars

Jim Chaney faced some criticism after a questionable play call on 3rd & 4 led to a pick-six against Kentucky. Guarantano certainly threw a ball that he would like back, but as Jeremy Pruitt mentioned, it is not a good idea to throw a 30 plus yard out-route to pick up four yards. Guarantano's second interception against Kentucky was even uglier. He was pulled for a series before making a return, and then Tennessee went into a protective mode with him by running the ball on 11 of the next 14 plays. Maybe Guarantano had the option to pull and throw on an RPO and Kentucky conceding the run, but it did not appear that way.  My point in this is it appears Chaney feels limited with what he can do with Guarantano behind center, so why not build for the future with Bailey, even if he is limited. Tennessee's offense has look shell-shocked since Guarantano's first turnover against Georgia, and that is simply unacceptable with what Chaney makes. If Guarantano limits you, and the other points I have mentioned are, in fact, true, which they are, then it is time to go a different direction. Chaney makes too much money to not be able to scheme up a game-plan for a true Freshman, who might be the most naturally gifted player in the room. Bailey is as serviceable as any quarterback on the roster, so it should not be hard to get a game plan together that allows him to utilize his natural talents and give Tennessee opportunities. He is a gunslinger, so he will not shy away from the moment. 

Going With Bailey is the Opportunity to Show that You are Invested in the Future of this Program 

In today's world, it is all about now. Everyone wants results, and they want them now. It is the cold hard truth. Make no bones about it, Jeremy Pruitt is attempting to build his program the right way. I believe that, and I see that in the players he recruits and the way the current players handle themselves. This year, in a year that practically does not count, Pruitt cannot throw all of that away by continuing with Guarantano. Again, Bailey was recruited here to be the future of the program. He may not be as ready as one likes, but this is the opportunity for Jeremy Pruitt to show that what has taken place on the field for Tennessee the last two weeks is unacceptable. Recruits took notice of Bailey's opportunity on Saturday, and they will continue to take notice of the coaching decisions that are made throughout the remainder of the year. Tennessee has to avoid another quarterback roulette at all costs. 

I am not the head coach at Tennessee, nor do I make any of the decisions, and that will never change. I do not know what Jeremy Pruitt will do heading into Alabama or the rest of the season, for that matter. I had reluctancy to write this article because, again, it is rational to not want to see a young quarterback get fed to the wolves on a grand stage, so I cannot imagine the reluctancy Jeremy Pruitt would have when thinking about being the one to do it. I have covered Bailey more than any media member around Tennessee Athletics. I have seen the good and the bad. I have seen the six touchdown performances, and I have seen the nights with multiple picks and a loss. It happens to all quarterbacks. I have watched Bailey mentally and physically embody all that the position offers for two years, and it is time to see him get the opportunity at Tennessee. Loss of eligibility is not an issue, the offensive weapons are there, and trust me, this is the best offensive line he will have ever taken a snap behind. The Tennessee fan base is yearning for it, the college football world is watching to see what unfolds, and Freshman quarterback sensations are the new norm. Will it be this Saturday, will it be heading into Arkansas, again, I do not know, but I believe it is time for Harrison Bailey.