Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media for his weekly press conference on Monday. During this week’s presser, the Vols’ second-year head coach discussed the progress his team made during their bye week last week, his scouting report on the Georgia Bulldogs, and much more.
Here’s everything Pruitt had to say during Monday’s press conference.
Portions of this transcript were transcribed by Tennessee’s sports information department.
“When you look at Georgia, it’s probably the best Georgia team that I can ever remember at this point in time in the season. Very complete on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.
“You start offensively. It starts with Jake Fromm. To me, he does as good a job as anybody in the country — and maybe as anybody I’ve ever coached against — as far as keeping their offense in positive situations. He takes care of the football, gets the ball out of his hand, controls protection, keeps them in positive run plays.
“You look at their guys up front. They’ve got six or seven guys who play up front with very talented, big men. Running back, (D’Andre) Swift is as good as anybody in the country, a guy who can make you miss, catch a ball out of the backfield, got home-run ability. Brian Herrien, he’s another guy that’s played a lot of football there. Probably tight end, Charlie Warner, he’s played the last three years. He’s a really good football player.
“At wide receiver, they’ve had to replace a lot of guys, but they’ve replaced them with a couple of transfers and some guys that they’ve kind of grown in their program there that are big, tall, athletic and can create explosive plays. They run the football very efficiently. They’re balanced, so we’ve got to be able to stop the run, got to get off the field on third down, got to find a way to create some turnovers.
“Defensively, to me, they’ve added several pass rushers in this past signing class that you see out there, but they’ve got lots of depth up front. They’re big, physical. They’ve done a nice job stopping the run, haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Creating much more negative plays probably than they have in the past. And they’ve had a few injuries in the secondary, but they have depth back there and have done a really nice job.
“You look at them in the kicking game, Rodrigo (Blankenship) seems like he’s been playing there for 10 years. They’ve got good returners, got good speed on coverage teams, so it’ll be a challenge for our football team.”
On the plan at quarterback for Saturday’s game against Georgia:
“We’re not going to give Georgia a scouting report of what we’re going to do this week, so we’re going to rep the guys that we feel like gives us the best opportunity to have success.”
On Jim Chaney being familiar with both Tennessee and Georgia:
“It probably works both ways — you’re right. With our staffs, we’ve all coached together over the years, so whether it’s offensively or defensively, we probably know some of the checks that each team’s accustomed to. But at the end of the day, it comes down to blocking, tackling, executing, taking care of the football. We’re familiar with them. They’re familiar with us, so it’ll be about the details and intangibles of the plays.”
On the difference between his defense and Kirby Smart’s defense:
“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference in what either one of us do. If you looked at how we play the last couple years, it’s probably changed a little bit. Kirby’s probably been more of a 3-4 (defense) guy. We’ve probably been more of a 4-2-5. I think a lot of that has to do with personnel. As a football coach, both of us, we have lots of things that we can do in our systems, so you figure out what’s best for your personnel. You look at them this year, they’ve added a lot of different wrinkles that I’ve not seen them do in the past, which makes sense. It’s in his fourth year in his program. He’s got guys that have a lot of experience. They’re playing a lot of guys on defense and trying to create roles for the guys, so you see that with different packages of people that come in there.”
On Kirby Smart having early success at Georgia:
“Well, I think the program that he took over won 20 games the previous two years. That helped. He had a very young football team that he inherited, you know, and he’s done a very nice job. He’s put a really good staff together. It’s a place that you can have success. Those guys were used to winning, and now he’s kind of recruited (well). (He is) in his fourth year. All those guys that he has there, he’s recruited them there, and they’ve done a nice job evaluating talent and going and getting some of the best players in the country and coaching them up. In this day and time, you need to be good at the quarterback position, and he’s got a really good player there. Last year, they had two really good players there. They’ve got playmakers on the outside. They’re big up front. They’ve kind of recruited to the philosophy, and you can see it.”
On how important Tennessee’s bye week was:
“We worked really hard this past week. Got guys that are becoming more familiar with the positions that they’re playing. It was good for us. It’s not just our young guys — our older guys, too. We’ve got lots of guys that’s not played a whole lot of football and (need) to improve, try to so-call master your position. That’s something we worked hard on this week.”
On why he was so emotional following Tennessee’s loss to Georgia last season:
“Well, it was the first time that I felt like we had competed like you’re supposed to. You go back and look at that game. There was a point in that game it’s 24-12, and we had an opportunity on third-and-4 to get off the field — didn’t. I guess you had to know where we were at when we got here, right? To take a football team that was one of the best teams in the country and compete with them to the fourth quarter.
“One thing about me, I’m an emotional guy. I got into this business to be a positive influence on our players. It’s something that I’ve always loved doing. When guys strain and compete, it’s what you want them to do and we’ve got to do that this week. To me, they’re much improved over where they were this time last year. They’re older and you can see that.”
On where Tennessee’s linebacker depth currently sits:
“Well, Jeremy Banks is continuing to get better. Unfortunately, Thursday before we played Florida, he turned his ankle really bad and struggled on that Saturday trying to be able to compete, so we didn’t play him in the game. You’ve got Daniel (Bituli). You’ve got Henry (To’o To’o). You’ve got Jeremy. You’ve got J.J. (Peterson). Aaron Beasley is working there. We’ve got guys that are competing really hard every day in practice.”
On if younger players are ready for bigger roles:
“Well, it was good for Jerrod Means, a guy that started off as a defensive back. He worked the whole summer until maybe July playing wide receiver and then worked defensive back, so it was good for him to get back and catch some balls there (for) Ramel Keyton, also Cedric Tillman, some guys there. Princeton Fant is a guy that has kind of bounced around, but we’ve kind of put him at tight end to leave him there. That’s another guy. All of our young guys continue to improve.
“There’s a lot to learn about being a good football player. First, you’ve got to learn what you need to do to have success. But the other this is, and probably the most important thing, is figuring out what the other team’s trying to do to you. It’s a lot to learn, and these guys have worked hard to do that. And you’ll see guys, probably, their roles increase as the season goes.”
On what he saw from freshman defensive back Tyus Fields during the bye week:
“Tyus is a guy that is a runner. He’s a hitter. He’s got really good ball skills, can play man-to-man. He’s a guy that he was here during the spring, but he had injured his foot his senior year of high school, so he had foot surgery, so he missed the entire spring.
“So he gets here this summer and we put him at corner. As we get to fall camp, we move him to safety, just to work him inside, so that’s a lot to learn in a short period of time. But he’s a guy that has a bright future, works really hard every day. He’s just got to continue to go out there and compete and have a better understanding of what we’re trying to get done.”
On how he would evaluate Tennessee’s coaching staff through four games:
“The biggest evaluation is your record, so we’re 1-3. That’s what matters the most. We’ve obviously, as an entire coaching staff, got to continue to improve. We’ve got to get our guys to play at a higher level.
“The big thing is, offensively, we’ve got to take care of the football. We’ve had (eight) turnovers in four games. Going into the season, we said that we needed to take care of the football, we need to be opportunistic on defense and we need to stay healthy. We’ve not been able to do any of those three things. Two of them we can control. We’ve got to take care of the football and get some more turnovers, but as a coaching staff, we all need to do a better job.”
On how to teach a football program how to win:
“Creating the right habits every day. I had an opportunity just to watch some games on Saturday. It’s, to start with, the first thing I talked about there. It’s just the ball. It’s amazing, the team that doesn’t turn the ball over, how much their percentages go up having an opportunity to win. Teams that get a lot of turnovers, same thing. But it’s just creating the right habits and the details and being able to do it over and over and over, whether you’re playing at home, whether you’re playing away, whether you’re a little bit sore, you’re a little bit tired — maybe you’re a little bit hurt — and creating depth and having a team that can do it so, if one guy goes down, the next guy can come in and play winning football. To me, that’s what you see the teams that are playing the best in college football right now, that’s what they’re doing. And if you look, in the next 25 years, the teams that are doing it the best will be playing winning football then, too. I don’t think that’s changed over the years, and I think that’s what you have to do to have success.”
On getting Marquez Callaway more involved on the offense and what he thinks about Georgia fans trying to checker Neyland red and black:
“Talking about Marquez Callaway, we have some really good wide receivers. Seems like Jauan has had more targets, maybe, than some of the other ones. But we’ve got to be able to get the ball to our playmakers. That’s something that we really tried to focus on during the off week, not that we haven’t before. Just trying to make sure that we can get some of these guys some touches.
“I have a hard time believing that what that other question you asked me would happen.”
On Jarrett Guarantano’s confidence following his performance against Florida:
“He had a really good practice last week, which is, you know, that’s not unusual. He’s practiced really well, spring and fall camp. I think the big thing with Jarrett is taking it to the game, being consistent, creating the right habits. That’s something that he’s got to improve on, and taking care of the football, that’s the number-one goal.”