Going into 2019, many fans feel that the success (or failure) of this season will have a lot to do with how well Jarrett Guarantano plays. Statistically, he was an average to below average QB in the SEC in nearly every category (minimum 14 attempts/game):
- Attempts: 14/14
- Attempts/Game: 14/14
- Completion Rate: 7/14
- Yards: 11/14
- Yards/Game: 11/14
- Yards/Attempt: 6/14
- Touchdowns: 12/14
- Touchdown Rate: 10/14
- Interceptions: 1/14
- Interception Rate: 1/14
There were some definite bright spots around interceptions and completion rate – but overall – not very good. It is not a stretch to say that Guarantano’s 2018 performance was negatively impacted by historically bad O-Line play and a first-time OC and offensive play caller.
In comes Jim Chaney. An offensive coordinator since 1997, Chaney has a track record of coaching high-performing college QBs like Drew Brees, Kyle Orton, Tyler Bray, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. He even made Nathan Peterman an attractive NFL prospect. That alone is an achievement.
Therein lies the question. What will Jim Chaney’s impact be on Jarrett Guarantano in 2019? The first thing that needs to be done is creating the baseline for projecting Guarantano’s 2019 stats.
This starts by answering these questions:
- How many offensive plays will Tennessee run per game under Chaney in 2019?
- Of those offensive plays, how many will be pass attempts?
- Of the pass attempts, how many will be from Guarantano?
How many offensive plays will Tennessee run per game under Chaney in 2019?
In 2018, Tennessee averaged only 58 offensive snaps per game. In 18 seasons as a college OC, Chaney has never had a season with such low offensive snaps. In his career, Chaney’s offenses have averaged 71 plays per game and have never gone below below 64.
It is important to note that, since 1997, Chaney’s offensive approach has evolved. In the past 10 years, a Chaney offense has only surpassed his career average once – 2012 Tennessee (74). When you look at just the past 10 years, the average snaps per game drops to 67.
This is likely due to more of a run-first, ball-control mindset of many SEC teams. See Bret Bielema’s Arkansas and Kirby Smart’s teams. Jeremy Pruitt has made it very clear that this is how he wants his offences to operate. Because of this, I am projecting that the 2019 Vols will follow suit with Chaney’s previous decade average of 67 snaps per game, up 9 per game from last year.
And as for how many the Vols will play this year? I am an optimist and believe thatTennessee will be better than 2018, making a bowl in 2019. This increases the total games played from 12 to 13 year over year.
Assuming 13 games and 67 offensive snaps per game, I project Tennessee will have 871 total offensive snaps in 2019.
Of those offensive plays, how many will be pass attempts?
This is something that can be determined by looking at Chaney’s 18 previous seasons to see how he balances run/pass to predict how he will handle it next year. In 2018, 42% of Tennessee’s offensive snaps were passes compared to 47% for Chaney’s career.
Not surprisingly, with Chaney decreasing total offensive snaps since his days at Purdue, he is also running the ball at a higher rate. Over the past 10 years, only 43% of Chaney’s offensive snaps have been passes.
Even though the past few years have been lower than his past decade average, those teams had arguably more talented running backs thab Tennessee’s 2019 team. Because of this, I am sticking to Chaney’s 43% average, leaning more on the pass than the past few years, but matching his 10-year average – increasing total pass attempts by 78 year over year.
Of the pass attempts, how many will be from Guarantano?
In 2018, Guarantano took 83% of all pass attempts. This was due to him being knocked out of games or trying to get transfer QB Keller Chryst some snaps. There were three games when Guarantano had less than 15 attempts: ETSU (13), Alabama (10), Missouri (2).
Next year, Guarantano will be the sole guy at quarterback. In fact, he’s the only quarterback on the roster with any in-game experience. Looking at Chaney’s career, when he has an established signal caller, they take the vast majority of snaps at 95% or higher.
I see 2019 being no different for the Vols. If the line play improves, and Guaratano stays upright, there is no reason why Guarantano will not receive 95% of pass attempts. This would increase his snaps by 110 from last year.
Of all the stats to project for Guarantano in 2019, this was the most difficult. There are so many external factors that can contribute, like opposing teams’ defenses, play calling, receiver quality – it took some time to feel great about a projection.
One of the main reasons for this is that Guarantano is coming off a high completion rate in 2018 – completing 62.2% of his passes. If you compare this against Chaney’s history with QBs as OC, Guarantano has surpassed Chaney’s career average of 58.3% in both of his first two seasons.
For additional context, when you compare Guarantano’s 2018 performance with all other Chaney quarterbacks (minimum of 150 attempts/season), he would rank 3rd all time, only behind Jake Fromm’s 2018 season and Drew Brees’ 1998 season.
Since Guarantano is already starting from a high mark, can Chaney improve on it in his first year? During his time as offensive coordinator, Chaney has inherited and started 4 QBs with previous experience (not counting Jacob Eason, who started as a true freshman in Chaney’s first year at Georgia). By the end of his first year working with these QBs, he improved all of their completion rates. Two things become clear:
- Chaney has never inherited a more experienced QB in his first year at a new school
- Guarantano’s 2018 completion rate is higher than all others in a similar situation, so it is unrealistic that his will improve at a similar rate
There are many reasons to think that it’s not unreasonable for Guarantano’s completion rate to improve in 2019:
- Guarantano’s completion rate improved from year 1 to year 2
- Chaney has improved his inaugural inherited QB at every stop
- Tennessee is returning 91% of its offensive production from 2018, including 95% of receiving production
- It’s hard to say the offensive line will be dramatically better in 2019 (it can’t get much worse), but they will be bigger and have more upside with newcomers like Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright
While my gut says there will be an improvement here, albeit marginal, I wanted to have a more concrete factor to point to.
Read More: A Blue Chip Analysis of the SEC
Performing a correlation analysis on completion rate and every major passing statistic (quarterbacks from 2016-2018 with a minimum 14/attempts per game) did not make this clearer, as there were no strong relationships to build on:
Correlation to Completion Rate
- Yards: 0.3466
- Touchdowns: 0.2850
- Pass Attempts: 0.1698
- Games Played: 0.1073
- Touchdown Rate: 0.0716
- Interception Rate: 0.0506
- Interceptions: 0.0042
With Guarantano going into his third year of in-game experience, the next hypothesis was to test if completion rate increased with years of experience. Looking at quarterback data from 2010-2018 (minimum 14 attempts/game), I isolated quarterbacks with at least three years of in-game activity during that time. This confirmed the prediction that completion rate tends to increase with years of experience.
On average (excluding outliers), a quarterback’s completion rate increased 2.1% from year 1 to year 3. Since Guarantano is starting with a completion rate of 61.9% in year 1, I also isolated just the quaterbacks with a 60%+ completion rate from year 1. This made the average lower at 1.9% increase from year 1 to year 3.
Assuming JG follows a similar trajectory, his completion rate would increase to 63.1% in his first year under Chaney. This would be the lowest increase of an inherited QB under Chaney at 1.4%, but again, he is starting from a much higher place.
Yards per Attempt
When you compare Guarantano’s 2018 yards per attempt to Chaney’s quarterbacks during his career as an OC, he comes in above average, with only three quarterbacks in Chaney’s career reaching a higher yards per attempt – Kyle Orton (‘04), Tyler Bray (‘10, ‘11, ‘12) and Jake Fromm (‘17, ‘18).
Like completion rate, quarterbacks inherited by Chaney were all able to increase their yards per attempt during their first year in Chaney’s offense, with Guarantano starting at a higher place than Chaney’s previous inherited quarterbacks.
Even though Guarantano’s last season was already higher than Chaney’s quarterbacks’ average, I am predicting that there will still be incremental improvement in his yards per attempt next year for the following reasons:
- Chaney has improved his inherited quarterback’s yards per attempt at every stop
- Tennessee is returning the players who accounted for 95% of receptions in 2018
- 42% of Guarantano’s completions in 2018 were caught 4 yards or fewer
With nearly all of his receivers coming back this year and with (hopefully) improved line play, Guarantano should be throwing downfield more. I conservatively predict his yards per attempt will increase 5% to 8.1.
In 2018, Guarantano had a touchdown rate (pass attempts per touchdown) of 20.5 – resulting in 12 touchdowns last year. Assuming that Chaney increases overall offensive snaps, Guarantano stays healthy and Tennessee goes bowling in 2019 – if he simply maintains the same rate, he would throw 17 touchdowns in 2019 (+5).
Will Guarantano be more efficient under Chaney and have a lower touchdown rate? Compared to Chaney’s history with QBs, his rate from 2018 is already lower.
Much of this is being skewed by Kyle Orton’s high touchdown rate at Purdue. When you just look at the past decade, it tells a different story:
Chaney has only had two quarterbacks over the past 10 years with a worse touchdown rate than Guarantano had in 2018 – Matt Simms (‘10) and Jacob Eason (‘16). Can Guarantano have a better touchdown rate than a transfer quarterback with only 10 previous pass attempts and a true freshman? If Guarantano simply performs at Chaney’s decade average, putting him between Brandon Allen and Nathen Peterman, it puts him at 22 touchdowns in 2019.
If Guarantano did nothing else in 2018, he had an incredible interception rate. At 82.0, it was the best in the SEC last year and fourth-best among Power 5 schools.
In his career as an OC, Chaney has never had a quarterback with an interception rate better than Guarantano’s 2018 season.
When you compare Chaney’s career average (40.7), it is nearly identical to his past 10-year average (40.1). So, in 2019, let’s assume that Guarantano falls back to earth and takes more risks – cutting his 2018 interception rate in half to match Chaney’s 10-year QB average, he would throw 9 interceptions into 2019.
Based on his history with quarterbacks and where Guarantano is coming into 2019, Chaney will have a positive impact on Guarantano in 2019.
While I stand behind my projection (assuming Guarantano stays healthy), I believe his ceiling is even higher in 2019. Call it preseason optimism, or my orange colored glasses, but based on everything I have seen, it would not be unreasonable to think that Guarantano would outperform this projection in 2019.
Going into this, I called Guarantano’s 2018 performance as average/below average. If he delivers on what I think he will, he will be an average SEC QB in 2019:
Be sure to check back after each week this season, when I’ll track how Guarantano is pacing against this protection.