Tennessee finally picked up a win on Saturday afternoon, as the Vols beat the Mocs of Tennessee-Chattanooga by a score of 45-0. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media following the game to discuss his team’s first win of the season. Here’s everything he had to say.
Quotes transcribed by Tennessee’s Sports Information Department.
“It’s really nice for these guys. We got a good win and got five turnovers today, which was very important. We didn’t turn the ball over, which was probably the difference in the game. We created some opportunities in special teams. Those guys have done a really nice job of running the football against us and created some explosive plays there. But, with the turnovers, we were able to keep them out of the end zone. We had too many penalties today, too many dead-ball penalties. We’ve definitely got to eliminate that. It was good.
We got to play a lot of guys, and it’s good for them to see where they’re at. They’ll know the mistakes that they made in the game, the things that they did the right way. I don’t know how many guys we played, but we had the opportunity to play a whole lot of guys. That was good for those guys. We definitely improved from last week to this week.
I thought on the offensive front, playing Darnell Wright at guard for the first time and K’Rojhn Calbert at tackle, it was good to get both of those guys out there. Jahmir Johnson was a little banged up, so we held him out today.
We got the two young quarterbacks in. It’s good lessons for them. They did some good things, and they made some mistakes. They’ll learn from it and get better with it. We got a couple of wide receivers in and some young o-linemen. It was a good day. We’ve got to be more consistent on both sides of the ball and we’ll do that the more these guys get an opportunity to play.”
On if the forced turnovers were due to mentality or the level of competition:
“We’ve not really changed the way we’ve coached. It seems like when you get turnovers sometimes it comes in bunches. There’s a certain attitude and a way that you play that, to me, indicates whether you get turnovers or not. If you’re running around hitting people, or if you get your hands up and you bat balls, if you’ve got a lot of people swarming and peppering the ball carrier, there seems to be more balls out. We got a couple of interceptions today, which was good. We got a couple of fumble recoveries, which was good. And we took care of the ball on offense, which is just as important. I know we had the one pick that they got a personal foul on and should have stuck the ball on him. The guy was open, he just missed the throw. We’ve got to take care of the football, and we’ve got to be opportunistic on the defensive side.”
On what he saw out of Darnell Wright and K’Rojhn Calbert that made him want to go with them on the right side of the offensive line:
“With Jahmir (Johnson) out, Wanya (Morris) was going to play tackle and Trey (Smith) guard, and Brandon (Kennedy) center. K’Rojhn had a really good spring and fall camp. He’s not had an opportunity to play a lot in the last couple of years because he’s been injured, but he’s a guy that has some talent. He’s a big physical guy that can move folks. He missed the first couple of practices, or maybe the first four practices getting ready to play Georgia State. We weren’t really as comfortable putting him in the game then. He’s worked hard and improved. It’s tough on Darnell (Wright). It’s probably easier to go from guard to tackle. The game slows down out there. It’s probably a little tough to go from tackle to guard, especially with a guy that, really for his whole life, has played tackle. We just felt like this was the best way to get a good combination on the field.”
On games like today convincing Jeremy Banks that he can play linebacker:
“I told him when he intercepted that first one that the first guy tackled him and that most good running backs make the first one miss. So, I made sure to point that out. I’m glad that Jeremy (Banks) got to play, and he’s a guy that is still learning what it takes to be a good football player at the collegiate level. He’s learning about the time you have to put in on your own to get prepared, and all of that comes with maturity and being around guys that know how to do things the right way. He’s a guy that continues to improve, and I’m glad he was in the right spot one time. The second time he probably didn’t have nearly as good of coverage, but it was good to see that. One thing about guys that handled the ball in high school and play defense in college, they get turnovers. They’re used to handling the ball, and you saw that in a running back getting two interceptions today.”
On Tyler Byrd’s blocked punt:
“Tyler (Bird) is one of our best special teams players. All I can attest to since I’ve been here is he’s a guy that works hard; he does everything we ask him to do. He has some pretty good guys playing in front of him. He’s a good team player. He plays on the kickoff cover team, the kickoff return team, the punt cover team and the punt return team. If you add those snaps up today, that’s a lot of ball. He also played some offense today. He’s a guy that plays his role. (He) plays it at a very high level for us, and we need more guys like him to step up and do that.”
On the 21-0 start changing the game:
“Well, it definitely helps when you choose to play on offense to start the game. When you fumble the ball on the second play of the game, that doesn’t help. When you choose to take the ball on offense and you take the opening kickoff back 65 yards, that helps. Then the next time they get the ball, you block the punt and scoop and score it helps a lot. The key to the drill is, when you’re on offense, take care of the ball and create explosive plays. On defense, get the ball. To me, that’s what we’re talking about.”
On this win helping confidence going into next week:
“I think it’s good for our guys to win. When you look at the makeup of the guys on our football team, in the last three seasons, today was the 10th win. The guys that have been here for three and four years have not had a lot of success, and they need it. We have a lot of guys that are young guys in our locker room that are used to winning. Maybe some of our older guys were used to it when they were in high school. The one thing that you never want to get to is to a place where not winning doesn’t bother you. It bothers me. I can’t sleep at night, and I probably make everyone in our building miserable because of it. I know I do at home, but we have to get our players to a point where that’s the way they are, and I think we have a lot of them in our program that are that way.”
On if either J.T. Shrout or Brian Maurer have separated themselves:
“They both did some good things today, and they both also made some horrible decisions today, but that’s expected. Today was their first opportunities, which is why we’ve been wanting to get them out there. We’ll check the film and see who was the most consistent and see where we’re at, but I didn’t see much out there that separated them today.”
On players playing for the first time:
“It’s good that we got to play a lot of guys. A lot of guys played today that hadn’t played in the first two games. It’s good that we got Daniel Bituli to play; he needed to play. He’s probably not 100 percent yet, but he needed to play. And he’ll get better. He’s really improved a lot in the last three or four days. So, that was good for him to get out there and get going. I saw a guy out there that flashed to me at the end of the game, Tyus Fields. They handed the ball off and he looked like a streak in there. He was running to the contact. So, do you see that in practice? Absolutely. But he’s a young guy who started off as a corner. We moved him to safety, so he’s still learning what to do. But, one thing he does have figured out, and we saw it today, is to go get the ball. So, that’s a good thing. He’s a guy that we need to probably play on special teams, so there’s lots of little bitty things that we can look at. We played Elijah Simmons and Kingston Harris, Jackson Lampley. So, we can see how some of these guys did.”
On how Jarrett Guarantano handled this week and if it was planned to get the other QBs reps:
“Well, I think you guys probably give yourselves more credit than you deserve. The rest of us, we’re not really worried about what you say when it comes to our quarterback and all of that. So, we just went business as usual. Jarrett is our quarterback, and he’ll be our quarterback until we decide that he’s not. He deserves to be our quarterback; he’s outplayed everybody, and as far as playing the other guys, we’ve been wanting to do that since the first game. We put Brian (Maurer) in because we had a few more run plays for Brian, which you saw later on in the game. That had nothing to do with who has out-practiced who. The last two weeks, we were going to put J.T. (Shrout) in the game first, but Brian had a few run plays in there that we were going to let him do. So, we decided to go that route.”
On what he knows about his team going into SEC play:
“At wide receiver, I know what we’re going to get with Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway. The other positions, we’re still learning a little bit about ourselves. We’re still kind of creating the identity of who we are on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, we’re kind of the same way. I’d say in the first three weeks Henry To’o To’o has played as well as anybody. But we’re looking for consistency from a bunch of different players, and we’ve got a bunch of them that there’s not much difference in. Maybe some of them have been here for three years, and they have probably a little more knowledge of what we’re trying to get done, and maybe some of them have been here for six weeks and they’re trying to learn on the fly. But our whole football team needs to continue to be technical. We’ve got to coach effort, we’ve got to coach toughness, and we’ve got to have a good understanding of what we’re trying to get done in all three phases. And, we’ve got to find some consistency. That’s what good football teams do, so that’s what we’re working to do.”
On how much it helped the defense to have Daniel Bituli back to help settle the defense:
“We haven’t had a problem getting lined up since the first game, and some of that was that we didn’t work a lot of it. They created some issues that we hadn’t seen. But he’s a guy that’s a signal caller for us and has a good understanding. He’s been here since day one, so he does a nice job with it, but I feel like our other linebackers do too.”