RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
“They did everything better than we did. I’m not saying their team is better than ours; I’m saying that today, their team was. And that’s all that counts.”
Those were Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s words following the Volunteers’ 38-30 loss to Georgia State on Saturday. By virtually all accounts, Jeremy Pruitt was right; Georgia State was the better team in Neyland Stadium during Saturday’s contest. The first — and perhaps most glaring — discrepancy that the box score shows is the difference in the trenches.
“You can look at the yards rushing. Georgia State rushed for 213 [yards] and Tennessee rushed for 93,” Pruitt said. “I think that tells the tale.”
While starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano scrambled a handful of times — a move Vol fans have been wanting to see for the better part of the last two seasons — Tennessee’s quarterback still ended with negative rushing yardage because of four sacks he took in the game. In 10 rushing attempts, Guarantano finished with negative 10 yards.
While some of this can be contributed to poor blocking up front, indecision on Guarantano’s behalf led to costly sacks, including a sack-fumble with 7:10 left to go in the game. Although the Vols had three more drives before the game concluded, that turnover led to a Georgia State touchdown and likely provided the proverbial nail in the coffin to Tennessee’s hopes of winning.
While Pruitt was visibly displeased with his team’s performance on the ground, he only mentioned the Vols’ rushing attack three times throughout his post-game press conference. “Execution,” however, was mentioned exactly 11 times in Pruitt’s post-game presser.
“That’s the thing that’s great about all sports, especially football,” Pruitt explained. “They don’t ask you how many stars you have when you go out there for the coin toss. They don’t get your 40 [yard dash] time. They don’t get your vertical jump. It’s about going and executing the fundamentals.”
When asked if his team’s performance was a reflection of poor preparation, Pruitt reiterated that execution was the primary problem.
“I believe we were ready to play, we just have to execute,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt noted that effort, like preparation, did not seem to be the principal issue. Again, he pointed out his team’s lack of execution over anything else as the leading issue in Saturday’s game.
“It’s always about how hard you play. But if you’re playing really hard and you’re running in the wrong direction, that’s not good,” Pruitt stated. “If you’re playing really hard and you’re not blocking the right guy, or if you’re supposed to run this route, but you see it a different way and run another one, it’s hard to have success. And we probably had too much of that.”
The silver lining for Vol fans, however, is that Pruitt was willing to shoulder the blame for his team’s disappointing opening performance.
“Like I told the players in the locker room, everybody needs to look in the mirror, because it’s what I’m going to do and say, ‘What can I do better for our football team?’ And I’m going to start with me.”
Whether this Tennessee team’s biggest problem is execution, coaching, rushing, or some combination of all three, the Vols will have 11 more chances to prove their worth on the gridiron. That’s 11 more weekends to prove that the upset loss to Georgia State was merely a fluke.
For Pruitt’s team, it means exactly 11 more chances to do what he mentioned exactly 11 times in Saturday’s press conference: Execute.