Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Monday to begin Auburn week.
Ahead of Saturday’s trip to The Plains, Pruitt addressed the assistant coaches who declined a pay cut, updated the status of senior defensive back Shawn Shamburger, talked about the quarterback room, and previewed the Auburn Tigers.
Here’s everything Pruitt had to say courtesy of Tennessee Athletics Communication:
“I wanted to start this press conference talking about an article that was written about our assistant coaches the other day. When you talk about contracts, the situation is fluid. I know the men that are in this building, and I know where their hearts are at. I also know the circumstances around decision making, what they’re looking for, and where they’re going in the future. The final chapter has not been written on that. They will continue to look and meet with our administration to see what they can do to help supplement the university.
“While I can’t answer all your questions regarding this, I’d like to focus on Auburn and looking at these guys as a team. To me it starts offensively with their quarterback, Bo Nix. He’s a guy I’m very familiar with. His grandfather and my dad used to coach together, so I’ve known his family for a very long time. I think he’s playing really good football. They have three really good wide receivers who have lots of experience playing on the outside. They have a stable of running backs. They play a couple of guys at tight end and they’re big across the front. After going against Coach (Gus) Malzahn over the years, they clearly play with really up-tempo different looks and spread you across the field. You have to keep your edges on the defense and eliminate explosive plays. You have to make them drive the ball through you. Defensively, Kevin Steele is a guy that I worked with many years ago. He’s a good friend of mine. They play a lot of man-to-man and mix it up defensively. They create negative plays. They play fast and hard. They’ve been really opportunistic over the course of the year. I think they’re one of the better special team units we’ve played. They’ve blocked a couple of punts. They’ve been explosive in the kickoff return game. They’ve got good specialists, so it will be a tremendous challenge.
“This past week our team was really disappointed about not getting a chance to play. I thought we put three really good consecutive practices together. Harrison Bailey had a really good week along with (Brian) Mauer and J.T. (Shrout). It was good to get Jimmy Calloway, Jimmy Holiday and Malachi Wideman extra reps. We helped them start understanding how to run routes against certain coverages and the details of being able to do it. Being able to have a chance for Tee (Martin) and Coach (Jim) Chaney to coach these guys was really good from a throw game standpoint. It was a really good chance for us to get healthy. I feel like our football team is the healthiest it’s been in a while.”
On the difficulty of the last couple weeks and the game postponement:
“Well, when we went home March 12, everything changed. Everything changes daily. There’s lots of unknowns. We’ve really been trying to adapt. There’s nothing to draw from. There are no history books on COVID-19. I think it’s been very important for our staff to do a lot of quality control and documentation about some of the things we did during March, April, May and June. This is so we can go back and look at it. This might be the norm for next year too. It’s not like this is going to go away anytime soon. We’ve tried to adapt and provide the leadership for our players so that we can get the most out of this. I’m frustrated for a lot of these guys because their circumstances change frequently and it’s out of their control. The guys have great attitudes and they’re working hard. They’re excited to get a chance to play this week.”
On the difference between Chad Morris’ offense at Auburn and that of a Gus Malzahn-run offense:
“I coached against Chad (Morris) when he was at Clemson, so they kind of come from the same family of offensive football. There is some familiarity there. I probably see some of the things that Kirby (Smart) was talking about. We have lots of history. I’m sitting there and Coach (Derrick) Ansley’s showing tape to the players yesterday and as I’m sitting there looking, I’m trying to figure out what year this video was from. It was 2013. We have lots of history. I will say this, you can see that Chad has his thumbprint on it, maybe more so than Gus, but there’s still a lot of things and flavor that shows up that is still Gus Malzahn’s offense.”
On if Jarrett Guarantano’s performance in a road win over Auburn in 2018 was one of the best performances of his career:
“He played really well that day. You’re right, we couldn’t run the ball. We couldn’t block them up front. They had a very good defensive front. I felt like our wide receivers made a lot of plays that day. Our o-line held up in protection enough for us to get the ball out. It was very typical. I think the score might have been 17-0. I might be wrong there. We kind of have a history there of playing against Auburn. It seems like if you can get through the first couple of drives – they play so fast – and you get accustomed to playing them. I was telling the defensive guys yesterday, if you look, the teams that play Auburn every year have more familiarity with how the offense is run. Teams that don’t play them every year seem to struggle. It’s important to try and understand what Auburn tries to do philosophically on offense. We really worked hard yesterday to get that engrained into our defensive players.”
On how confident he is that Tennessee will be able to play all 10 regular season games this season:
“Obviously, we can’t predict the future. I believe we all knew when we started this, that there were no guarantees. That’s why I’ve been really proud of our football team – the way they go to work and the way they stay positive through the circumstances. I think it says a lot about them as people and about their character. I know they’re excited about the opportunity this Saturday. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to play.”
On if the assistant coaches brought the potential pay cut discussion to him, or if they made a decision on their own:
“I wasn’t really going to talk about it, but with the communication and being in the middle of the season, I did not specifically sit down with any assistant coach. I knew that they were being approached about it, but I didn’t know the outcome until Blake (Toppmeyer) wrote the article on Friday. What Blake wrote was factual. I do believe, as I said before, that the final story has not been written yet. It’s a fluid situation and with contracts, things change. There will be opportunities to make adjustments as we move on.”
On if the differences in the SEC scoring is because of a philosophical shift or the unique preseason this year:
“Probably a little bit of all that you said. There are a lot of really good players playing in this game right now. There’s quarterbacks that are prepared coming out of high school that can get people the ball out there in space. If you’re committed to getting the ball out in the perimeter and you’ve got good players out there, lots of times you ain’t got to block all the big guys in front. So, when you line up and run inside zone, and you’re going to run it 10 times, you’re talking about six guys that have got to block six guys exactly right with a back hitting it up in there. Whereas if you get the ball out in space, you’ve got guys that can create explosive plays just like that. So, it’s something that I feel like you’ve got to be able to do both. You have to be able to run the ball consistently in this league, but you got to create explosives plays – there’s nothing like getting yards in chunks. That’s something we’ve really been trying to focus on.
“Someone mentioned the last time we played Auburn. I don’t know how many explosive plays we had that day – we couldn’t run the football, but we could create explosive plays and that was the difference in the game. Probably the two most important things when you talk about outcomes of games is No. 1, turnovers and No. 2, explosive plays, whether you create them or whether you give them up.”
On QB Jarrett Guarantano’s status for Saturday’s game:
“He practiced yesterday, but all of the other guys took a lot of reps over the last three practices. We’ll see how the rest of the week goes here. I was really excited about how these other guys continued to work. I thought Jarrett had a good day yesterday. It seems to be a little more confidence offensively, especially with our younger guys having a better idea of how to execute at a higher level.”
On DB Shawn Shamburger’s status:
“Shawn is working on academics. This has been a very unusual circumstance for this whole deal. You try to do school from home, not being in-person when you talk about tutors and things like that. He’s going to focus on academics the rest of this semester. No, (he will not be back with team this season).”
On the NCAA pushing the dead period into the spring:
“For us as coaches, whatever tape that you get you just have to evaluate it. Obviously, there wasn’t any spring evals when you watch people in person. There weren’t any summer camps. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of football going on throughout the country. It’s not consistent anywhere. So, the opportunity for guys to improve their game is not there for everybody. The ones I worry about are really the student-athletes that are being recruited – the fact they can’t go on campuses, which I understand why they can’t. I can’t imagine making a decision on where I’m going to go to school and I’ve never been to a campus. It’s very unfortunate for them. I don’t have the answer for it. I wish I did. We as a staff have really worked hard to build relationships and do the best we can to take Knoxville and University of Tennessee to wherever that may be, by Zooming online, videos, whatever means necessary.”
On the difficulty of having to play three consecutive road games and having no home games this month:
“I really didn’t even know that. Since 1891? (No November home games) Obviously, going on the road in this league is a challenge. I don’t think it’s as challenging as it is when the stadiums are full. I think having a home game – the familiarity, not putting in the travel – is definitely an advantage. I think it’s good for Knoxville, it’s good for our fans and it’s good for our team. That’s another thing, when we travel, we have to miss school on Fridays, so having a chance to be able to finish and do all your academics on Friday is important too. We’ll be glad when we get back.”
On the growth of freshman QB Harrison Bailey this week:
“Just command. When you are comfortable doing something, running an offense, whatever it is, you have confidence. Your peers can see it. You can’t fake confidence. It’s either natural or it’s not, and that’s not to take anything away from him, but the more you do something, the more comfortable you get at it and the better you feel and the more confident you are, and you can see that. The simplicity of communicating the calls all the way across the board. You’re talking about a young guy sitting here and you got to tell Trey Smith which guy he’s supposed to block on this run play right here. ‘The MIKE is 42 or whatever, we’re working 42.’ Just some of that. Nothing different that you see out of any freshman. It’s no different than Tamarion McDonald making all the calls in the secondary, or last year Henry To’o To’o when Daniel Bituli was out having to be kind of the quarterback of the defense. It’s something that the more you do it, the more you gain confidence in and everybody sees it.”
On Auburn’s wide receivers, specifically Seth Williams:
“Well, you know Seth is from Tuscaloosa there and I was very familiar with him coming out of high school. He’s a really, really good athlete, good basketball player. He’s a guy that’s really never covered. When I say that, you can have him covered, but you can tell that Bo (Nix) has a lot of confidence in him. He throws the ball to him and he goes and gets it. He can high point the ball. He creates yards after the catch. He’s a tough out in one-on-one coverage. And then you throw in the mixture of the other guys they’ve got, the Schwartz kid (Anthony Schwartz) is the fastest guy in the country. I remember in high school going down and watching him run on the track, just one day I’m watching him and another young man just practice track, and I’m just seeing him run by. I mean this guy can fly, and he’s really developed into a really good football player. So, they’ve got some really nice weapons at wide receiver and at running back and they do a nice job of finding a way to get these guys the ball.”
On the development of Auburn’s defense after having their best game against LSU:
“Really, because of my relationship with Coach (Kevin) Steele, no different than a lot of teams across the country. Circumstances change every week. Obviously, they’ve had some guys in, some guys out, but that week (against LSU) they had more guys in, probably more that were healthier. Then you just talk about, if you’ve got a young group of guys, just the consistency and the circumstances that we’re all well aware of, I think it’s probably affected a lot of teams. I know just talking to Kevin, he’s talked about that just between me and him. So, they played really well I thought against LSU and I expect them to play really well against us.”