Senior linebacker Daniel Bituli didn’t play on Saturday against Georgia State as he continued to recover from a minor procedure he underwent late in fall camp. According to Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Bituli could be set to make his 2019 debut on Saturday against BYU.
Pruitt met with the media after practice on Wednesday and gave an update on Bituli’s status for Saturday’s match-up with BYU. According to the Vols’ second-year head coach, Tennessee’s senior leader on defense could see the field when UT takes on the Cougars.
“He was out there today (at practice). He’s close,” Pruitt said of Bituli. “There might be a chance he can give us some snaps, very similar to Trey (Smith) last week. Trey played 30 snaps. Daniel will definitely be close.”
Junior offensive lineman Trey Smith wasn’t cleared to play in the 2019 season until the final week of practice heading into Tennessee’s season opener. Smith’s blood clots in his lungs have kept him from participating fully, but he was given the greenlight to play against Georgia State.
Smith played in just under 40 snaps against the Panthers, and Pruitt said on Wednesday that the former Freshman All-American will be a “game-time decision” for Saturday’s contest against BYU. Smith will be monitored “week-by-week” for the whole season per Pruitt.
As for Bituli, it looks like he could see the same amount of time this Saturday as Smith did last weekend.
Bituli led the Vols in tackles in 2018 and was set to be an anchor in the middle of Tennessee’s defense in 2019. But Bituli had to undergo a procedure on his knee near the tail end of fall camp, and it caused him to miss the Vols’ season opener against Georgia State. True freshman Henry To’oto’o and junior Will Ignont filled in as starters at inside linebacker for the Vols against the Panthers.
Tennessee missed their experienced leader in the linebacking corps on Saturday. The Vols’ linebackers struggled consistently with lining up correctly and doling out the appropriate assignments. Those issues led to Georgia State shredding Tennessee’s defense for over 200 yards rushing on the afternoon.
The 6-foot-3, 252-pound inside linebacker entered the 2019 season as the Vols’ active career leader in tackles with 178 in his 33 career games.
As a junior last season for the Vols, Bituli appeared in all 12 games and made 10 starts for Tennessee. He amassed 79 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and a pass defended. Bituli also played in all 12 games as a sophomore in 2017, totaling 90 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception he returned for a touchdown, three passes defended, and a forced fumble.
Tennessee will take on BYU on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium. Kick-off is set for 7:00 PM Eastern.