Tennessee entered Saturday’s contest against No. 1 Alabama as one of the least-penalized teams per game in the country. The Vols were averaging just five penalties called against them per game in their first six contests of the 2019 season.
Jeremy Pruitt’s second-year squad didn’t look like a disciplined team against the Crimson Tide, though. In the first half alone, Tennessee committed nine penalties. For the game, Tennessee was whistled for 13 infractions, easily their season-high. The previous season-high for penalties in a game for the Vols was seven (against Florida).
Pruitt wasn’t a fan of all the flags.
“There’s a few critical plays in that game — and I’m not saying it would have changed the outcome of the game. I’m not saying that,” Pruitt responded when asked about Saturday’s officiating during his Monday press conference. “And there was probably some against us, too. But, unfortunately, we’re all held accountable, and from an accountability standpoint, it’s tough. What’s the repercussions here, you know?”
There were several plays against Alabama that raised questions from fans from an officiating standpoint. The most notable one, however, was when Darrell Taylor was penalized for unnecessary roughness as he tried to get off the ground after hitting Alabama quarterback Mac Jones on a third down. Instead of Tennessee getting the ball back mid-way through the third quarter with all of the momentum in a one-score game, the Crimson Tide were awarded a first down and proceeded to drive down the field and score to make it 28-13.
“The call on Darrell Taylor was absolutely not a penalty,” Pruitt stated. “It’s not a penalty, okay? Would it change the game? I don’t know. I know they would have punted instead of going on and scoring that possession.
“Was there a couple of things in there that I felt like they took shots on our quarterback? Absolutely. Their kids are playing hard, just like our kids did. But we had a couple of targeting calls the last two weeks, and the definition of targeting — the officials in the game, they throw one, right? And it gets overruled in Birmingham, or from the replay booth or whatever. I don’t know. Just the consistently there, it’s a tough deal for everybody involved. And the accountability’s even tougher.”
In addition to the phantom penalty call against Taylor, there was also a moment in the game when the officials decided to stop play just before Tennessee was about to catch Alabama off guard near the end zone with a trick play. There was also the time where the Crimson Tide ran a pass play in which only one second ran off the game clock.
According to Pruitt, he wasn’t given an explanation for either mishap, but he also understands that the officials are trying to get things right down on the field.
“Just like when I wake up in the morning, and I walk out there, I’m not saying I want to make a mistake as a coach today, or as a player. Nobody operates that way, right?” Pruitt added. “It’s a tough game to manage, but there are certain things that can be overturned. We get a holding in the red area — actually, two holding calls in the red area — and, hey, maybe we held, but you know what? You can call holding on every single play in college football. We also get a lineman downfield in the red area. Every RPO that’s out there, there’s guy five to seven yards downfield, every play, that somebody throws an RPO — which is really what the game’s became. Our guy was five yards downfield blocking a guy.
“It’s like I said before: The inconsistencies, really the accountability, the repercussion of what goes into it, it’s a tough deal. But everybody’s trying to do their best to make our game the best it possibly can be.”
Although there were calls that Pruitt disagreed with, he was adamant in his support of the head of SEC officials, Steve Shaw, as well as all of the SEC officials.
Tennessee’s head coach even went as far as to make note that there were three or four calls during the game that he didn’t agree with, but after watching the game tape, admitted that he was wrong.
In the mean time, Tennessee now turns their attention to South Carolina, who beat then-ranked No. 3 Georgia just two weeks ago.
“We’re moving on,” Pruitt said. “There’s nothing we can do about last week. We had 60 minutes to do that. And let me tell you: As coaches, as players, we all contributed in the loss. I thought our players played extremely hard and tried to do exactly what we wanted them to do.
“We’ve got to execute at a little higher level. We’ve got to do a little bit better job as a coaching staff to give them an opportunity to do that. And we’ll start today to fix that.”
The Vols and Gamecocks will kick-off at 4 p.m. ET on the SEC Network this Saturday.