Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt met with the media following Tennessee’s 31-19 loss to No. 6 Florida to give his thoughts on what went wrong for his football team.
Pruitt discussed the play of his quarterbacks, his team having an execution problem, his defense’s third down struggles, why Florida’s offense was so explosive, the status of Ramel Keyton, and why Tennessee struggled to generate a pass rush.
Here’s everything Pruitt had to say:
Pruitt’s opening statement:
“I think Florida has a really good team. They’ve got a couple of exceptional players. I thought they played really well today. But I thought our kids fought hard. When you look at the circumstances a lot of these guys were around, we made a ton of mistakes today. But some of the mistakes we made were probably were where we need to do a much better job getting the guys ready to play. Some of them was because guys hadn’t practice in two weeks.
“This team was too good to let them off the hook, and we let them off the hook from our defensive standpoint about four or five times on third down in the first half. When you’re playing inside man-to-man, you shouldn’t get beat inside. And that happened to us a couple times. But anyhow, I thought our kids fought really hard. But I think this game was very similar to a lot of our games this year. If you look at the way we play, about 90 percent of the plays are probably winning football. Maybe top tier in this league. But unfortunately, you’ve got to count all plays. There have been three or four plays on both sides of the ball in every game, particularly this one, where we made mistakes. Either didn’t take advantage of a call, whether it was offensively or defensively. Maybe we ran a good call, but we just didn’t take advantage. We didn’t capitalize on the situation we were in. Or maybe we made mistakes.
“I thought our kids continue to play hard. I thought Harrison (Bailey) and JT (Shrout) both done pretty good jobs, considering they hadn’t played a whole lot of ball we were going against. I thought they had some poise. Obviously with Harrison, it being the first time he played in a game like that, all the way through. Probably held the ball a few times too long there. Thought he kept his poise. I thought he scrambled well. Kept his eyes down the field. Really a lot of positives there to see. And I thought JT came in there and done a really nice job too. Brian Maurer, we played him a couple plays and Brian brought a little bit of spark.
“I just really liked a lot of things about, especially our offense, at the end of the game. The way Ty Chandler was running, the way the guys were trying to finish. I mean, that’s who these guys are. They work hard everyday, they try to finish. They’ve got really good character. It’s like I just talked to them, there’s probably not much difference in this team in this locker room and the team in the other locker room. Obviously there is based off record. But that team that just beat us, they won the (SEC) East today. So ask our guys, how much difference is there in us and them and let’s figure out how we get there. Get there as a staff, get there as a program. I think a lot of our guys recognize where we’re at. They recognized the fact that we’ve made some mistakes along the way, that if we can eliminate those, it might give us a lot better chance to have success. I’m excited about getting back, going to work on Sunday. See how these guys respond. We’ve got two games left. We’ll get back, go to work, take the positives we had from this game and continue maybe to grow with those things. Fix the things we made mistakes on.”
On the status of Tennessee’s quarterback situation moving forward:
“I mean, guys, so y’all won’t have to ever have to ask me this again, every week we go out there and we see who competes in practice, who does the best job that we feel like affects the guys around him. And we will do that as long as I’m the head football coach here. At every position. So you don’t have to ask me ever, ever, ever again.”
When asked if Jarrett Guarantano could have played:
“Well he hadn’t practiced in 13 days, Jimmy. Which, a lot of those guys hadn’t practiced in 13 days that played. So it’s probably a lot tougher on a quarterback.”
On when players who were in quarantine that couldn’t play will return:
“Probably next week.”
On if he feels any different after this game than after other games against rivals:
“No. I came to this stadium to win the game. Just like you go to every one of them. That’s the only goal. So, no. That’s the answer.”
On Tennessee’s third down struggles defensively:
“I don’t know how much you know about football, but you can play inside man-to-man or you can play outside man-to-man. And if they’re running inside breaking routes, you like to lay them inside-out. There were three times tonight that they converted first downs when we’re playing inside man-to-man and they complete balls breaking inside. One time we gave up a first down on third-and-12 and we called Cover 2. And the corner don’t split the zone and get to the sticks, which is the first down marker, in case you don’t know. So I would start from the sticks and make them throw the football in front of me, then go tackle them.
“Because we’ve got pretty good tacklers. So there’s four first downs. That’s four too many. Because they’re good enough that they’re going to make some first downs on their own. They caught a corner route down there. We’re playing inside man-to-man on that one. That’s a tough cover. That’s a tough cover for anybody. You’ve got to push into them. You can coach them up and coach them to where maybe they can make that play. That’s a good call on their part or a bad call on our part, either way you want to look at it. But you can’t give alley oops. When we have good calls called, we need to execute them and get off the field.”
On Tennessee’s pass protection against Florida:
“I feel like we had a really good plan offensively. When you’re four open, and they want to bring pressure, there’s no way to hide it. So everybody knows they’re coming, right? Does that make sense? There are four guys out here, so somebody has to block them. So you can see them, right? You can see them coming. We felt like we had good answers. Got to get the ball out of our hand. That’s what happens with a young quarterback sometimes. Holding onto the football. Got to get the ball out of your hand. Sometimes it’s just like reading a book. You see it coming, get the ball out. It’s that simple. (Bailey will) get better the longer he does it.”
On Florida tight end Kyle Pitts:
“To me, he’s really hard to guard when he’s at wide receiver. Getting matched up at corner, then they can move him inside. He’s got wiggle like a wide receiver, but he weighs 240 pounds. He’s a tough cover. There were times tonight where we had him double covered. Had lots of calls that way. But, when they hurt us over there on the trips side, the three-by-one a couple times. Got matched up on some linebackers. So got a really good scheme going there and they have two really good players who have a lot of experience, that know how to execute it. And the quarterback gets them the ball. We obviously didn’t do a good enough job, that’s for sure.”
On why JT Shrout played against Florida after not playing since the Kentucky game in September:
“After the Kentucky game, we had those Sunday night scrimmages or what we call opportunity periods after practice. We’ve continued to do that, up until probably the last couple weeks here. We’ve not done it here in the last couple weeks. But just based off that, we just felt like there was a time that we wanted to go with those guys. But it kind of come back around to JT. It happens that way sometimes. And I thought he has taken a lot of advantage of the opportunities he’s had. He had a really good week, last 10 days were really, really good. Unfortunately hurt his arm a little bit, but looked like he played ok with it today.”
On the status of sophomore wide receiver Ramel Keyton:
“Ramel is not going to finish the year playing football. He’s going to continue to focus on academics. That will be a great opportunity for him.”
On why Tennessee struggled to generate pressure against Kyle Trask:
“No, we didn’t. You’ve got to be able to affect the quarterback. You’ve got to get to him, you’ve got to affect him. And we did not do a good enough job there. No, we didn’t.”
On Florida’s rushing attack:
“I didn’t even realize they ran the football, to be honest. Seemed like they threw it every snap. It’s totally different than probably three years ago, playing against Dan (Mullen) when he was at Mississippi State. So, I felt like our guys played hard. Defensively, we played hard. We had three or four guys that hadn’t practiced in two weeks, right? We made some mistakes in the game and I made some bad calls that didn’t put them in the best place to have success against a good football team. I’ve got to do better, we all got to do better to be able to stop this team. Which, there was a few plays tonight they made on us that they shouldn’t have made. And we’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to make sure that everything they do, that they earn it. That’s not taking nothing away from them, because they’re going to make a bunch of plays because they have a bunch of talent and they’re good coaches. Got a really good scheme. But they have to make them earn it every week.”
On Tennessee’s defense preventing Florida from scoring on three possessions in which the Gators started in Tennessee territory:
“I mean, that’s happened a couple times this year. We turned the ball over twice against Georgia starting the second half. It’s happened several times. Again, when you’re looking for things like that, that’s teams that are quitting. Our team ain’t quitting, ok? We don’t have an effort problem. We don’t have a toughness problem. We got an execution problem. And we’ve got to work hard to fix that. And our guys will. I don’t know how to describe even how many guys that didn’t practice, that just showed up and wanted to play. They didn’t have to play. They didn’t have to play. Again, I don’t know how many of you guys played ball, but if you don’t shoot any free throws, you know, for a couple weeks or you don’t shoot a ball for a couple weeks, it’s hard to make them on game day. If you don’t play somebody man-to-man for two weeks, it’s hard to guard 84 (Kyle Pitts). He’s pretty good, you know? These guys had a choice. They could’ve said we’re not going to play, but no, they wanted to play. All these guys wanted to play. It’s just unusual circumstances. And probably, truth be known, I’m too hard on them. I’m too hard on them. That’s probably the truth. I ought to be thankful they want to play and it don’t matter they didn’t practice, they still wanted to play. That’s probably the truth of the matter.”
On how he thought freshman center Cooper Mays performed in his first career start:
“Playing the center position, during the game it’s hard for me to know exactly how he played. Listening on the headphones, I didn’t feel like there was an ID’ing problem with the fronts or anything like that. Just listening to the offensive coaches talk. From a poise and execution, I think he must have done a pretty good job. I didn’t see any wild snaps or anything like that. That’s some of the things that you would think, with a young center. Coop is a tough kid, he’s a smart kid. Works really hard. He’s only going to get better. It’s good that he got to play against these guys. They’ve got a good defense. So I’ll have to watch the film to tell you more.”
On how many players played that they didn’t think would be able to until the CDC changed how long people are required to be quarantined:
“We only had two that fell in that category (that could come out of quarantine after the CDC changed the isolation time). No, there was three. We had three players that didn’t think they would be able to play by Saturday, but they were because of the new rule.”