Jeremy Pruitt met with the media on Monday, as Tennessee starts their preparations for Kentucky. The Vols, coming off a 30-7 win over UAB will be looking to grab their first road win of the season in Lexington.
Tennessee has been a bit banged up over the past few weeks, especially at the QB & OL position, so there will be a lot of work that goes into getting some guys back on the field.
Jeremy Pruitt answered questions concerning the QB position, the defensive turnaround, struggles on the OL against UAB & more.
Here are Pruitt’s full comments, in the transcript below
“Looking back and reviewing this last game, just starting with offensively, (there were) way too many negative plays. There was too much pressure on the quarterback and got him off the spot. Not as much schematically, but just kind of getting whipped and pushed back into the quarterback. (We had) too many negative plays in the run game. We have to eliminate those plays. There were lots of positives too. There were a lot of four and six-yard runs. We popped a few out there. There were just too many 3rd-and-7 and 3rd-and-8s. We have to put back-to-back plays together and we didn’t do a good job doing that. We turned the ball over in the red zone right before the half. There were really two ill-advised throws throughout the game. We have to do a better job all over the field offensively, starting at the offensive line, quarterback, running back, tight end and wide receiver and blocking in the run game.
“Defensively, we got four turnovers and should’ve had another. But (that) kind of changes the game. Give the offense short fields. We didn’t do a whole lot with it at some times, but we got field goals. And for every turnover, (there) were really points there. Special teams continue to do a pretty good job there. We have to improve there every week. We will spend a lot of time on that today. We came out of the game pretty healthy.
“Looking at Kentucky, a team that has kind of changed its identity a little bit. Obviously with the injury at quarterback, (they) had to revamp a little bit what they were doing offensively. (Assistant head coach) Eddie Gran has done a really, really nice job on the changes that he has made there. Finding a way to win, with (Lynn) Bowden playing a little bit of quarterback. I followed Mark (Stoops) at Florida State and he really, really does a nice job recruiting guys and evaluating talent. The intangibles of how they play. The season they had last year and what he has done to that program at Kentucky with that identity they kind of play with, they are physical and tough. They play together. They are very opportunistic.
“You look at their defense, they are one of the best defenses in our league. And they do great on special teams. The punter punts the ball all over the place, on kickoff cover they do a really nice job placing the ball, and they have great skill players to return it. We have got to continue to improve this week. We have to make tons of strides in all three phases to give us an opportunity to have success Saturday night. It will be a hostile environment, so we are looking forward to the challenge. But Kentucky has a team that is really talented and playing really well right now and we will have to be at our best to have a shot Saturday.”
On what it is with this team to be able to turn this season around and move forward:
“You have to figure out why we were 1-4. It was pretty simple. We turned the football over. We didn’t get enough turnovers. We didn’t play clean. We had some guys who were injured at beginning of the year or didn’t play. We were young. It was a recipe for not a whole lot of good. Our kids have come and our coaching staff has done a really nice job on coming to practice and buying in, competing hard. We have some good leadership on our team. Our guys have never flinched. They just keep working. They believe in what we are doing here. It is amazing that when you believe in something, you stay the course, and our kids believed. They believe in what we are doing. They believe in our strength and conditioning. They believe in our nutrition. The people that are teaching them and (with) player development. We have kind of stayed together and just keep grinding it out.”
On the challenges of facing a team using a wide receiver at quarterback:
“They’ve had an off week this week, and if you look in their last three games – that’s when he’s started playing the most – you’ve seen their offense grow in that period of time with things that they’re doing. They really do some nice stuff in the run game with the read stuff. They’ve always kind of been an 11-personnel running the football, but they really do a nice job. So, you kind of don’t know exactly what you’re going to get there. And, he has talent to throw the ball. He’s not a guy that can’t throw the ball, he can throw the football. They’ve really kind of shortened the game with how they’ve played. They’ve been very efficient with their drives. The last two games that they’ve played in, it looks like it’s been a monsoon on tape. So, they’ve played in very poor weather, so you don’t know what you’re going to get with throwing the football.”
On what he emphasizes in the game plan prior to facing a mobile quarterback:
“We need to win the line of scrimmage. This will be a line of scrimmage game. We need to keep edges on the defense. When the ball is out in space, we need to be able to tackle one-on-one. We cannot give up one-on-one to a blocker defensively, you have to make two guys block you. And we can’t let the ball be thrown over our heads. We have to eliminate explosive plays. We have to find a way to get some turnovers. It really doesn’t change every week, it’s kind of the same thing. Maybe what the other team does changes, but our philosophy is never going to change on how we want to play defense.”
On Paxton Brooks handling punting and Jauan Jennings being a team leader as a wide receiver
:“Paxton has done a good job in practice to earn these opportunities. It could change this week, so we’ll see. We’re going to play the guys who give us the best opportunity to have success. Fortunately for us, we have two pretty good punters, and there’s lots of competition there. It will make them better as they continue to grow and develop as football players.
“Talking about Jauan, we have lots of good leaders on our team. Jauan is a passionate guy and probably the oldest guy on our team. He’s kind of been through the wars a little bit. He’s probably developed some wisdom about how to handle your daily business, he’s probably learned how to do lots of things right. The older we get, we learn from our mistakes, we learn from others’ mistakes and we try to pass it on to the people that we care about. Jauan cares about his teammates, and he’s a guy that really wants to finish this season the right way.”
On Trey Smith’s progression this season:
“Well he practiced twice in August. This is the ninth game, so that’s 11 practices. If you think about fall camp and how many practices you have in that three-week period, he would really be getting ready for the first game based off of the number of times he’s practiced. So, that says a lot about him, number one, about his ability, two, his willingness to do other things to help him get prepared to play in a game so he can play at a high level. He continues to improve every game.”
On the latest on the QB situation and Brian Maurer:
“He was full go last week. So, again, we’ll look and see where we’re at and who gives us the best opportunity to have success and we’ll play those guys. It might be one of them, it might be two of them, it might be three of them.”
On the defensive turnaround and what is behind that:
“For the first two or three games, four of our best football players on defense didn’t play. We’re not at a point in time in our program where we can just plug a guy in and there’s no drop off. You’re talking about Emmit Gooden, you’re talking about Baylen Buchanan, Bryce (Thompson) and Daniel (Bituli), that’s a big blow. So, you have to start kind of moving guys around, so yeah, that hurt us tremendously, and getting two of those guys back has helped. I mean, we knew we were going to be young defensively and inexperienced, so the guys are going to continue to improve over the course of the year and they’ve done that. It’s not surprising that we have improved, especially with those guys coming back. Against Mississippi State, we lose Trevon Flowers for the year. That’s a big deal. He’s one of our best defensive backs, and he was a guy during fall camp who was injured. So, he plays the first couple of games not at 100 percent. So, unfortunately, we had an injury bug in fall camp and lost a few guys, but we’re kind of getting some guys back and guys have gained experience over the course of the season, and we are playing somewhat better.”
On what led to the struggles from the offensive line on Saturday night:
“I think UAB is pretty good up front, to start with. I think they did a really nice job. When you’re going to run the football, it takes five offensive linemen, if you’ve got two tight ends in a game those two guys, a runner, and it takes a quarterback to glue it all together. So, when there’s moving parts on the defensive side, there’s one guy that’s standing over the deal that can see all of it, and you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got the right point, so everybody knows we’re working in the right direction. We had too many mistakes from that standpoint. We probably got whipped a couple of times, and maybe we didn’t use the proper technique, or we might have run the ball the wrong way, as far as the quarterback making sure we’re running to the correct side. That’s all important, and a lot of that goes into who our quarterback is each week. As an offensive play caller, you just don’t want to go out there and say, ‘Hey, I want to line up in dot and run zone to the right.’ We’ve got a center, a guard, a tackle, and a tight end, so that’s four. What if they put six dudes over there, are we still going to run zone to the right? You’re not going to get a whole lot of success there. So, you’ve got to be able to package runs and be able to change them and things like that. We missed some of those the other night, which didn’t help.”
On Shawn Shamburger’s improvement:
“Well, I guess he’s been here now in the second year in the system. I didn’t feel like he played very well the other night. He keeps playing, we don’t have a whole lot of numbers back there to play, but he’s a guy that has improved as the season has went. He has really good athletic ability and has some instincts as a player. He needs to be more consistent as a blitzer and more consistent in coverage, but he’s a guy that, based off of the fact that he’s been in the system for two years now, he’s going to improve. The way we practice, you’re going to develop as a football player. That’s why when you get guys that have a little bit of age, they might not have played a whole lot as a freshman or a sophomore, but if they stay in our system, the way we practice, the way we develop players, they’re going to continue to improve and get better. Football is a developmental game, you want to be coached, you want to see improvement and Shawn is a guy that has continued to do that. Now, we’re looking at the consistency, he’s played really well early in the year, just the other night he didn’t play as well, I probably shouldn’t have said that, but it’s the truth. But, we’re looking for more consistency there, and he has the ability to be a good player.”
On how he handles game management:
“There’s lots of things that are pretty well documented, kind of when to go for two or a philosophy of going for two. There’s lots of scenarios that you have to work consistently when you have the ball offensively based off the score. Are you trying to score touchdowns? Are you trying to run the clock out? Do you need a field goal? It is before halftime, so there’s lots of things that go into that and you try to go through all the scenarios during the offseason, starting in probably February when we’re doing quality control and make sure that we all have the same philosophy of what we need to do to get us prepped during the spring to make sure were able to hit all these things. Sometimes, you have to go off your gut too, so you see the game, you’re on the field you feel what’s going on. I was watching somebody play the other day and a team was moving the football, and somebody just burned a timeout just to stop them. That’s kind of one of those in high school like when I was a high school coach when a team is moving the ball, hey you might have to call a timeout to settle them down or make a correction or something so that you can keep them out of the end zone. Nowadays everybody talks about keeping your timeouts saved till the end of the half. Sometimes you just you have to go with your gut, but there is a lot of things that are documented that you study and look at.”
On the advantage to making a bowl game and disadvantage to not making a bowl:
“We’re not focused on making a bowl. What were focused on is being the best football team we can be today and continuing to develop as a team and get ready for Kentucky. That’s what we’re worried about. I don’t have time to worry about that other stuff. I think it’s kind of common sense, if we could get fifteen extra practices, that’s got to help you right.”
On his thoughts on the defense starting the second half better now than early in the season:
“It’s a good question. Something that we need to be continuing to look at and see. We’ve really not changed how we prepare at halftime. We’ve been taking the same procedure that we always do at halftime and continue to do it throughout the year. It would probably make sense that maybe our kids, because of youth, have kind of learned to apply it a little bit, all the information that there given. But, we’ve really tried to focus on being a second half team. We weren’t early in the year, at all, but we’ve really tried to get our kids motivated to be that way. There’s certain positions that we have lack of depth right now, whether it’s based on injuries, numbers or experience, and we’ve tried to be smart as a coaching staff to be able to address that as the game goes.”
On if the way the team has been playing has affected recruiting:
“I don’t know how much we played better on Saturday than we played back at the beginning of the year. If you turn the ball over three or four times a game, you’re not going to beat anybody, which is what we did earlier in the year. If you give up 65-yard passes with 20 seconds on the clock, you’re not going to beat anybody. At times, we’ve continued to improve this year, and we’re going to work hard to do that – we’ve got to finish – that’s the goal, to improve every game. We have a huge challenge this week and our kids know that. We’re excited for the opportunity. We have yet to win a game on the road, which is a mark of a good football team – being able to go on the road and win football games – and we have yet to do that. We have a whole lot to prove as coaches, as players, everybody associated with our program. We’ll have an opportunity to do that on Saturday night.”
On changes in coaching in relation to the improvement on the field:
“Well it’s about being efficient, playing cleaner. We’ve talked about it on both sides of the ball, it’s the details. You look at each week, the team that usually wins the turnover battle usually wins the game. Start with that, let’s just take care of the football, let’s get some turnovers on defense. It’s no magic pill, it’s about details, execution, doing the little things, and our kids have continued to work at it. We were younger, a young team, and the guys have kind of developed. We have a long ways to go. We have not come close to playing our best football yet, and we’re running out of time, so we’ve got to be able to do that.”
On his decision when to play Jarrett Guarantano and how it affects the offense:
“He practiced last week with his hand after surgery and did it on Wednesday and Thursday. There wasn’t much issue but it was cooler on Saturday night, so you’re (thinking), ‘how is he going to handle that in warm-ups’ and some of that, so I felt like JT (Shrout) played good enough in the South Carolina game, and he finished the game to start the game. I knew at some point we would give Jarrett an opportunity. He didn’t take as many snaps during the week as he normally does, but he’s a guy that can glue a lot of things together with the other players, and when he does that, we play better. It just comes from having more experience than the other guys. It’s easy for him, he has the maturity to see and learn from what’s going on during the game, and apply it, so that’s one of the reasons that we’ve done it.