KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he was looking for a spark when he substituted Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback for starter Quinten Dormady late in the third quarter Saturday.
It was a fruitless search.
Guarantano played three possessions in Tennessee's 17-13 win over Massachusetts at Neyland Stadium, each of them resulting in punts, as the Minutemen hung within striking distance against an offensively lifeless Volunteers squad.
Dormady directed back-to-back touchdown drives late in the second quarter but had his share of struggles, too, as the Vols cleared game four on their schedule seemingly with the same lack of clarity at quarterback as they had to begin the season.
"I think we have two very capable quarterbacks, and we'll continue to work with them," Jones said after the game.
Guarantano's best throw of the game came on a third-and-9 early in the fourth quarter. He hit Brandon Johnson on a crossing route, but Johnson — who had a career-high seven catches in the game — dropped the pass.
Dormady played the game's final two offensive possessions but could not direct the Vols on a clock-bleeding drive or to a touchdown that would have put the game out of reach.
Dormady completed eight straight passes to end the first half as Tennessee surged ahead 14-6, but the Vols sputtered out of the gate in the third quarter before moving the ball 18 yards for an Aaron Medley field goal on their second possession of the second half.
Then Gurarantano got his shot.
"Not one play was the determining factor to put Jarrett in the game," Jones said. "I think it was a combination of a lot of things."
His first series included a minus-1-yard completion, a John Kelly run that lost three yards and an incomplete pass.
"We were looking for some energy," Jones said. "I'll know more on how they played when I watch the video. It's really hard to tell from the sideline. But we had way too many negative-yardage football plays, way too many third-and-long situations. When you have that, you're not going to move the ball effectively."
It was Guarantano's second real action of the season after he made his debut in Tennessee's 42-7 win over Indiana State. Jones said leading up to the game that he would like to get the redshirt freshman involved again Saturday.
The student section broke out in a brief chant of Guarantano's name in the first half before the offense's brief scoring eruption under Dormady.
Johnson and senior offensive tackle Brett Kendrick both downplayed the idea that its difficult to adapt to a new quarterback in the course of a game.
"It's not a big adjustment,"Kendrick said. "We've got a lot of faith in Quinten, and we've got a lot of faith in JG when he comes in. They're both very capable quarterbacks. I guess they're a little different in their style of play, but our job description stays the same no matter what: Keep JG or Q up and open up holes for our backs."
Dormady and Guarantano were not made available for interviews after the game.
Contact David Cobb at email@example.com.