Following Saturday’s double-overtime loss to BYU, Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Monday to discuss what went wrong during the 29-26 loss to the Cougars. Pruitt also previewed Tennessee’s Week 3 opponent — the Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs.
Quotes provided by Tennessee’s Sports Information Department
“Reviewing the game from Saturday, offensively there were a lot of positives in the offensive line. It was probably the best that we’ve been able to run the football against a quality opponent in some time. There were lots of plays that were out there where I really felt like our running backs did a really good job making guys miss and finishing runs off. We probably left a few plays out there. We broke some balls down the field and didn’t finish at wide receiver, where we had a chance if we finished on a block down there, we could have went all the way to the end zone. In the throw game, we had an opportunity to create some explosive plays early and missed some during the game. If you look at it as a whole, we scored one touchdown in regulation and had several opportunities to create some explosive plays and we didn’t. We have to be able to do that. We got the ball in the red area a couple of times and came away with field goals.
“Defensively to me, there was lots of improvement and it’s going to continue to be that way based off of the players that we have, they’re going to continue to gain experience and each week you’ll probably see a couple of younger guys that’ll play more as the weeks go on. We’re still not forcing any turnovers, that’s one of the big things that in the last two weeks we’ve forced one turnover. I said this early on in the year that we really need to take care of the football offensively and we have to be opportunistic on defense. We have not done that in either game. The one disappointing thing for me defensively is that you play for 60 minutes and you give up one touchdown and then you go into overtime and you give up two in the overtime periods, so we have to figure out that and get it fixed. We have to create a little more depth up front at the linebacker position. As we move forward, we have some guys that we’re working there and they’re getting closer and closer. I really thought our snappers and holders and kickers did a nice job and they continue to do that. For two weeks in a row I feel like we’ve created an advantage in the kicking game by changing the field in kickoffs and in our punting game.
“When you look at UTC this week, I’m very familiar with these guys, especially their offensive and defensive coordinators. I’ve known both guys for several years and they really do a fantastic job. I’m familiar with the conference that they play in. If you look at them, they’re very well coached, have good players at all three levels on the defensive side of the ball. Their quarterback is a big guy that can spin the ball out there and can hurt you in the run game. What they do offensively is there is a lot of quarterback run element to it. They put a lot on the quarterback and they have big guys up front, they have returning running backs and a couple of good wide receivers out there.
“Defensively, they have some guys up front. They have two safeties that were preseason all-conference for their conference. They have a returning inside linebacker that had 98 tackles last year. These guys are used to winning. I’ve seen them play. A couple of years ago, my son played at Jacksonville State and I saw it first hand, these guys get after it. They played Jacksonville State last week and got after those guys pretty good.
“We have lots of things we can fix, but I feel like when you look at where our team was at in the first week and how much we improved from Week 1 to Week 2, that’s what we have to do. I’ve said it before, we have a young, inexperienced team at a lot positions, and to me that’s the type of improvement that we have to make from one week to the next and we have to continue to do that this week. How did we do that? To me it’s the effort that we gave at practice. I’ve said all along, we had a really good camp. And the difference in the first two games has been turning the football over and not getting turnovers, bottom line. We knew we were going to make some mistakes on defense, there’s no secret there. I think one thing that we did this past week is we called the game more aggressively on defense, which allowed our guys to play more aggressive. Did we make mistakes? Sure we did, but we made them moving forward instead of sitting back on our heels and that’s something that we can build on going forward.
“Offensively, we just have to be more consistent. We have to be more consistent up front, have to be more consistent at every position and that’s what everybody in our program is working on. You find out a lot about yourself and who you are in tough times. Obviously the first two games haven’t gone the way that anybody around here wants it to go. But those games are over with. All you can do from them is learn from them and take the lessons that you learned, the good and the bad, and move forward. The real character, who you are, kind of shows up in these times and I like the people in our program, I’ve said it all along. I like this team and I don’t believe the leadership in our program is going to waver one bit. We’re going to work hard and we have tremendous opportunities this week and moving forward for this year.”
On what is holding Jarrett Guarantano back:
“I don’t think anything is holding Jarrett back. Let me tell you, Jarrett Guarantano has practiced extremely well from spring to fall camp and has made some really nice plays in both games. Jarrett will tell you just like I’ll tell you, we all, myself included, have to raise our standards and expectations in this program and be a little more consistent. That’s everybody. He’s no different than anybody else.”
On if Guarantano hurt his hand or wrist and had an MRI:
“Yeah. He got his hand hit in the first quarter on a helmet. He’ll be fine this week.”
On what both he and Jarrett Guarantano can do to help manage the offense:
“I think one thing is we’ve had some pretty nice pockets most of the time, but there were a few times on Saturday when they rushed four guys that we had one guy get beat. That really collapsed the pocket, and there’s no time to throw the ball away. One time, we had a really nice drive going in the second quarter. The ball was on the 30-yard line, and it was first-and-10. We were going to take a play-action shot, and as soon as we turned around we get a sack, and then we tried to throw the ball away and get an intentional grounding. We’ve got to be more consistent up front. I think a lot of it from playing the quarterback position is getting your eyes on the right spot, moving pretty fast through your progressions and have a timing mechanism. He’s done a lot of nice things but so have a lot of people in our program, but there’s not much difference between winning and losing. When you look at Saturday’s game, there’s probably about 82 plays on offense and right about that on defense. You never know when the play is going to present itself that could decide the outcome of the game. That’s why you try to create the right habits at practice. You practice it until you don’t get it wrong. That’s what everybody in our program has got to do including him.”
On the level of improvement:
“These guys are going to continue to improve. We’ve got lots of young guys in our program that maybe weren’t ready to play in the first game, they may not be ready to play the second game. We had some guys that weren’t ready in the first game or second game, but we had to play them, if that makes sense. That’s kind of where we’re at as a program, there’s lots of opportunity here. We’ll continue to play some young guys, and we’ll play more and more guys as the year goes. There’s a little bit that comes with growing as a football player. All of these guys that we signed in this last year’s class all have the potential to be really good football players, but every one of them were better football players in their senior year in high school than their freshman year in high school. That’ll be the same way at Tennessee; they’ll continue to grow, develop, improve as football players as we go. Probably, if you look, Wanya (Morris) was here during the spring, Warren Burrell was here during the spring and got to participate in all the practice. Quavaris Crouch was here during the spring but he played inside linebacker based on depth issues and trying to get our best 11 on the field. It helps to get those extra 15 practices, and I think it showed with those guys. Eric Gray was here. He didn’t participate in the practices, but he got the mental reps, so he’s a little bit further along. Some of the other guys that weren’t here during the spring, you can see that it’s about that time, because of those 15 extra practices, where were at in the season, some of the other guys will start being able to contribute which will provide us some depth.”
On if there’s anything that needs to be done differently after the first two weeks of the season:
“Yeah, absolutely. I think just defensively, we had seven starters coming back from last year’s defense, which wasn’t a very good defense. We lose Emmit Gooden, (Daniel) Bituli, (Baylen) Buchanan, and Bryce Thompson – now were down to three guys. There’s tons of inexperience on that side of the ball. And we lost those guys later on in fall camp, it wasn’t like we lost them early on. Probably in the first game, we didn’t carry enough weapons into the game. When I say weapons, I’m talking about things that you can call to be aggressive and put the other team on their heels. One of the reasons we didn’t do that is because we knew we couldn’t execute it exactly right. I felt that in that game, defense especially, we played on our heels. That’s never how I’ve ever coached, that’s never how we’ve played any games here, that’s never how we practice anything that we do. So, in this game we went the other way and said that we probably aren’t going to get some of this stuff right, but we’re going to be aggressive, were going to try to throw marbles at the quarterback and the running backs and give our kids a chance, and call the game aggressively. I think it showed on Saturday. You always go back and look on what you can do better. For me the first thing I’d say is the long pass play. Could I have called a timeout before the ball was snapped? I’m always trying to look and see how I can improve and try and get it right. There’s no doubt we went for it three times on fourth down. One of them we scored a touchdown, two of them we didn’t. You’ve got fourth-and-a-foot to win a game. In my opinion, were at a point in our program where we want to make sure that were trying to create an identity and that we’re coming out there to win football games. We have to get those. We have to get fourth-and-a-foot twice, and we didn’t. I always do it, and I’ll continue to do it, but I think we have to look in the mirror and see what we can do better, and everybody’s doing that.”
On separation of the offensive line and if they stood out:
“Well we ran the ball better offensively, but if you look at it we had one o-lineman we felt like graded a winner, so we have a long way to go to get to where we need to be, and there’s lots of inconsistencies there and we got to continue to work hard to develop there. You know if you look at it, lots of times in the run game we had a hat for hat, so if they got four guys, we got four guys to block for four guys. Sometimes we gained five yards, sometimes we gained seven, sometimes we gained 10, and sometimes we lost one or two yards when we got one guy to block everybody right. There’s lots of times when they snapped the ball they had three guys to block four, sometimes they didn’t gain any yards, as the game went sometimes they gained three, four, five, six and they got three to block four, so we got to improve on both sides of the ball.”
On Guarantano’s shoe coming off, and what Brian Mauer is doing to be a good backup:
“Well he’s not the backup, first of all, he was a guy that saw that the quarterback came out so he ran on the field, which I kind of like. So, we didn’t tell anybody to go in or come out but he did run out on the field, I noticed that as I was coming off the field.”
On the if it’s important to get other QBs opportunities this week:
“Well it’s been important the entire time. The opportunity has not presented itself. You know, we said in the first game and the second game that if the opportunity presented itself we wanted one or both quarterbacks in the game. We’ve got to create a backup quarterback and you know there’s no doubt, if you’ve been around our program the last six months, who the best quarterback on our team is, but there’s also no doubt that sometimes after you get under the lights a little bit it’s interesting to see how the guys play. We got to get both these guys live game opportunity, so we can see.”
On what he’s learned about himself and his team in these last two weeks:
“Well, I know myself, I’ve been myself for a long time. We’re not going to flinch, we’re going to keep working, that’s what we do, right? The men on our staff are the same way. We’ve got a strong group of coaches that know how to win. We’ve been there, we’ve done it, we know what it takes. We’ve got to share our knowledge with our players. We’ve got to figure out why, maybe, we grade 72 percent instead of 88 percent? Why do we play a technique the right way for three or four plays and then we don’t play the technique right for a play? We’ve got to figure that out, we’ve got to share our knowledge with our players, we’ve got to get them to be at their best. And our guys will, and we’ve got to continue to do that. It’s a growing process. But, to me, I want to see how much we improve from this past week to this next week. To me, that’s a goal for this week, if we can do it again. And, I said that, if we do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. I truly believe that.”
On creating depth at linebacker and if Daniel Bituli is any closer to playing:
“Well, there is nobody else. Saturday, we dressed two scholarship tailbacks that were going to be able to play and four inside linebackers. So, we’re very thin at certain positions, and we’ve been that way. If we get a couple of injuries there, we’ve had to bounce guys back and forth, just to give us an opportunity. Hopefully, Daniel will be able to take some reps this week. Like I said, he was close last week. Daniel had a really good spring, and he was having a really good fall camp, but when he comes back, because he’s missed sixteen days of practice, it’s not going to be like where he left off. It’s going to take a little bit to get him back going, to make sure he’s in the right shape and conditioned. You can’t just walk out there from not practicing and start practicing every day like you haven’t missed anything. But we should be able to get him back some this week.”
On how LaTrell Bumphus has bought in to his spot on the defensive line and what he does well:
“I thought there were two guys on our defense this week that really just try to do what the coaches ask them to do, they don’t try to do anything else. I think LaTrell is one, and I think Theo Jackson is another guy. If you tell them to do it a certain way, that’s what they try to do, they don’t ask any questions, they just go and try to do it, and I think it’s why both of them actually played pretty well in this game. We’ll get more and more guys that buy in to doing that, and I’m going to tell you this, when I woke up Saturday morning, I had it in my mindset that I’m going to do everything I can to get our team to be the best they can possibly be. The kids that made mistakes on Saturday, which was everybody on our team, we all do, coaches too, nobody woke up and said, ‘hey, I’m going to make sure I mess this up.’ Everybody has the right intentions. But you’ve got to create the right habits, and I think both of those guys are two guys that are very good examples of guys that have really tried to do exactly what we’ve asked them to. LaTrell Bumphus, when we started fall camp, he was fourth team. He was fourth team. He’s a guy that plays on kickoff return, he’s a guy that helps us on the punt team. So, we’ve got to get more guys doing things like LaTrell and Theo.
On where the team can improve moving forward:
“Well, I think if you practice the right way, if you can develop the right habits at practice – that’s what we’re trying to do – the consistencies. I mean look at our football team, especially defensively. Darrell Taylor, Daniel Bituli’s not been out there, and the DBs, Baylen Buchanan has not been out there, you got Nigel Warrior, Theo Jackson. There’s not a lot of older guys on defense. A lot of youth. So, these guys are coming into a program, probably a little bit overwhelmed a bit, trying to figure out exactly how a coach wants it done, learning what they’re supposed to do. Also, learning how to practice to the standard and expectations and then they have to learn what an opponent does. We’re going to better at that every week. Every week, the games going to slow down to them. We’re going to create a little more depth, a little bit more competition. It’s going to make us a better football team defensively. Same thing offensively. We’ve got some very good young prospects on offense and they’re going to continue, as we go through this season, to do it the right way, to work at practice, to create the right habits. We’re going to improve on both sides of the ball. Problem is, everybody else is doing the same thing we’re doing. Hey, maybe, based off age, they’re a little further along and don’t have as far as they can go. We’ve got a long ways before we can hit our ceiling based off our football team. But, we’ve got to work hard every week to continue to get there.”
On what issues he noticed after watching film from BYU game:
“Just like Saturday, we barely dive right there and their right guard gets beat across his face when he knows the ball is running to the left. Hey, maybe this guy is better than me, maybe he’s bigger, stronger than me, but if I’m the right guard, I’m going to take my left foot, put it on the center’s right foot, where there is no A-gap, where the guy can’t beat me across my face because we’ve got the other guys blocked right there. Or, maybe the next time, I think they’re six minutes left in the game, we run the exact same call, when we kind of run the man around, which hey, on fourth-and-one or fourth-and-a-foot, hey maybe the Z-around is not the best call. But, you set it with our personnel, with who we are and who they are. I think it’s a pretty good call – we ran it earlier in the game and gained 11 yards on it – against the exact same call BYU had called. But we had a couple of guys that didn’t block it the same way. They block it the right way the first time, but get the exact same look and we don’t do it the right way the second time. Why is that? That’s obviously on us as coaches (to figure out) why the inconsistencies? We’re 0-2, instead of 2-0 because we have these issues.”