Vols' Jarrett Guarantano, Tyler Byrd come back to forefront in victory

AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano looks for a receiver during Saturday's game against Mississippi State.
AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano looks for a receiver during Saturday's game against Mississippi State.

KNOXVILLE - It was just one week ago that Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt called junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano "a guy that will help us win football games down the road."

"I will guarantee you that by his attitude and his work ethic," Pruitt said after the Volunteers' 43-13 loss to third-ranked Georgia.

A week later - just a week - Pruitt was proven right.

Guarantano entered in relief of the injured Brian Maurer on Saturday and was part of three scoring drives in the Vols' 20-10 win over Mississippi State at Neyland Stadium. The junior, who had started 18 consecutive games until being pulled in favor of Maurer due to his inconsistent play, completed six of his seven passes for 106 yards and a touchdown to Tyler Byrd, another veteran Vol who had been somewhat left behind.

Guarantano's lone miss was on a wheel route that senior Jauan Jennings was unable to haul in.

He was 4-for-4 on third-down throws, with three going for first downs.

"We didn't ask him to do a whole lot," Pruitt said Saturday. "He did a good job. He's worked hard to be prepared when the moment comes. We didn't ask him to do a whole lot today. That wasn't because it was him - it was the way the game was going. He took an RPO (run-pass option) out there, and it was good. He made a couple of third-down throws that were critical and had one with Jauan down there.

"I said it last time we were in here, he would help us win a game this year. He'll help us win some more. That's the thing about being the quarterback. When you have some success, you probably get too much praise. When you don't, you probably get too much blame. That's part of the position. He knows that and there's nothing you can do about it. It's everybody that's played that position for the last 100 years and for the next 100 years. He's just got to go to work and get ready to play next week."

photo AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee wide receiver Tyler Byrd races for a touchdown as he is hit by Mississippi State cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. late in the Vols' 20-10 SEC win Saturday in Knoxville.

The Vols mainly relied on a running game that finished the day with 190 yards. On the win-clinching drive, Tennessee took over at its own 9-yard line with 8:19 to play and a three-point lead. Seven of the plays on the drive were runs, including the first six gaining 44 yards and a pair of first downs. But with the Vols facing third-and-6 at the Mississippi State 47-yard line, Guarantano hit Tim Jordan out of the backfield for 9 yards. Then two plays later, he found Byrd, who scored for his third career touchdown.

"Run as fast as I can, really," Byrd said when asked what he was thinking on the play. "I was just thankful for the two outside receivers (Ramel Keyton and Jerrod Means) - they were freshmen and they made some good blocks for me and got me an opening, so just thankful for them and the offensive linemen."

Added freshman offensive lineman Wanya Morris: "It was really good, honestly. It was a good feeling 'cause Tyler Byrd, he works hard in practice, and I'm just glad for him he got his first touchdown of the season and hopefully many more."

Byrd has made his living on special teams this season, with the Vols being pretty strong in the receiving corps. He blocked a punt in the 45-0 win over the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that led to a Brandon Johnson touchdown, but the touchdowns Saturday was his first receiving score since the Alabama game last season, and he finished with a team-high 56 yards on three catches against the Bulldogs.

Byrd had two catches all of 2018.

"Tyler has a really good attitude," Pruitt said. "He comes out there to practice, and he's got a lot of energy every single day. He probably runs more yards around that field than anybody. He's always been a physical guy, used a little bit in the run game. He's worked hard to develop his hands, and he was open a couple of other times there when I thought we were going to get him the ball. It was a really good throw and catch, and a really good run after the catch."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.

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