KNOXVILLE — After the Tennessee Volunteers' 45-0 drubbing of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Saturday at Neyland Stadium, Jeremy Pruitt was defiant when questioned about his starting quarterback.
The second-year Tennessee coach was asked how junior Jarrett Guarantano had handled the previous two weeks after struggling in losses to Georgia State and BYU.
"I think you guys probably give yourselves more credit than you deserve," Pruitt said. "The rest of us, we ain't really worried about what you say when it comes to our quarterback and all that. So we just went business as usual.
"Jarrett's our quarterback, OK? And he'll be our quarterback until we decide that he's not. But he deserves to be our quarterback. He's outplayed everybody."
Guarantano's postgame response was much different. He was willing to admit he needed to get away some after coming under fire from outside the locker room, despite having at-worst average stats in the back-to-back losses.
Guarantano entered Saturday having completed 63 percent of his passes this season for 487 yards and four touchdowns. However, he also had committed three turnovers, including two in the fourth quarter of the 38-30 loss to Georgia State in the opener.
"I learned a lot about myself, really," Guarantano said. "It was tough going through these past two weeks, these games. I've never really felt like that out there. I needed to get back to myself and I'm happy to be feeling like myself again, and going into this next week I got a little confidence back and I feel really good."
Guarantano's first throw of Saturday's game was underthrown to Marquez Callaway and nearly intercepted by UTC junior corner Jordan Jones, but that was the lowest point of the game for the Vols quarterback. He completed his final seven passes — including touchdown tosses to Callaway, Jauan Jennings and Cedric Tillman — and finished with 142 passing yards, but his biggest gain might have been in confidence.
The Vols are about to enter the meatiest portion of their schedule with five consecutive Southeastern Conference games ahead, including three against teams currently ranked in the top 10 nationally — Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
"We're going to have to perform really well all around next week, and we're ready to work hard," Guarantano said.
Over the previous week, Guarantano's teammates had spoken up for their quarterback. He was aware and appreciative.
"Luckily I have a great family, girlfriend," he said. "My friends are excellent. Being able to go away to them and get away from this stuff really helps me a lot. It can get rough out there sometimes, but I'm happy that I have the support system I do.
"My coaches and teammates always have my back, and I'm definitely grateful for that."