RTI contributor Murphy Carlton is the author of this article
What Vol fans saw from Tennessee last Saturday was nowhere close to what they thought the team would look like in their first game of the season against Georgia State. Whatever the reason was behind the way the Vols played, there seemed to be a lack of leadership and possibly a lack of motivation from the players out on the field.
Tennessee junior safety Theo Jackson said earlier this week that the team had a players-only meeting on Sunday to discuss what happened in the game against Georgia State and why it never needs to happen again. In his press conference on Wednesday after practice, Jeremy Pruitt was asked about the players calling that meeting. The Vols’ second-year head coach thinks it’s a good sign that the leaders are taking control of the team.
“It’s their team,” Pruitt said of the players-only meeting. “If you’re invested in something and you have passion about something, you confront people. That’s what leaders do. So that’s good to see.”
One thing Vol fans pointed to the most after last Saturday was that, at times, it seemed players didn’t give their full effort and didn’t seem motivated to be out on the field. In order for the Vols to get back on track, the leaders of the team are going to need to step up and make sure that everyone else follows their lead.
According to Pruitt, it seems like that’s exactly what’s happening with the players-only meeting.
But that was over the weekend and behind closed doors. How has the team responded in front of Pruitt on the practice field this week? Has the team started to move on from Saturday’s huge loss?
“Everybody has gone back to work,” Pruitt stated. “It wasn’t like we went into last week and didn’t have good practices. We’ve had good practices all camp. I’m talking about effort, trying to do it the right way. We lack some experience at certain positions, we turned the ball over – I mean I can go through the whole thing all over again – so it’s not like we didn’t have good practices leading up. We didn’t have good execution on game day, and that’s where it counts. It’s those 60 minutes, so it’s what we got to do.
“We’ve got to take it from the practice field to the game field.”
The main problem, according to Pruitt, is that the team did not execute nearly as well on Saturday during their game against Georgia State as they did in practices leading up to the game. That lack of execution could’ve been because of the inexperience on the team, especially on defense. Multiple players played their first game for Tennessee on Saturday, and that could’ve been a big part as to why the Vols seemed lost at times on defense.
There’s also the fact that senior inside linebacker Daniel Bituli was absent for the game as he continued to heal from a minor knee procedure, and sophomore cornerback Bryce Thompson was suspended for the game as well.
It’s a great sign for Tennessee that the players are taking ownership of Saturday’s loss and doing everything they can to make sure they get things right. Positive results on the field against BYU are ultimately what needs to be seen, but having the leaders take accountability and initiative to correct things is a good step in the right direction
Saturday night is looking like a possible make-or-break game for the Vols’ 2019 season after the loss to the Panthers last weekend. If the Vols go out and lose to the Cougars, things could get even more messy than they already are. But a win could help set Tennessee back on the right path for the season.
The Vols will be under the lights in Neyland on Saturday as they take on BYU at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.