Jeremy Pruitt And Tennessee Players React To The Win Over Missouri

KNOXVILLE, TN – OCTOBER 03, 2020 – Linebacker Deandre Johnson #13 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Missouri Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee defeated Missouri 35-12 on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium, as the Vols moved to 2-0.

Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt thought his team did a good job of balancing the attack and running the football against the Missouri defense.

“We ran the ball 51 times, so the first part of being good in the run game is that you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to say that, ‘We want to establish the run game.’ I feel like we did that a little bit today.”

When discussing the offensive line, Pruitt said they were working to find the right rotation on the line, also knowing they could mix and match.

“For one, we’ve got guys that have been quarantined for multiple weeks, so they’re really not in shape to play an entire game. That’s the first thing. So, to do that, we’ve got to create a rotation. We also feel like we’ve got a lot of guys deserving to play and we’ve got competition. We want to figure out what the best lineup is. The circumstances we’re in right now with the pandemic, you may not always have your complete team. You better be able to mix and match and have an answer.”

Pruitt discussed Jarrett Guarantano after the win, especially on how he controlled the game flow.

“I know there’s three times in the game that I didn’t feel like Jarrett made the right read, that I saw. But, I think there were three times last week, so that’s three out of 76 or how many ever snaps we took today. He’s continuing to work hard to put us in the right place. We put a lot on him and he can handle it. As far as going for it on fourth down, it’s got to be a mindset.”

Tennessee rushed for 232 yards on Saturday afternoon, using one of the best offensive lines in the country to open up holes for the ball carriers.

“Well, usually the negative runs come from missed assignments, so hopefully that says we didn’t have many missed assignments. You should fall forward as a running back. I felt like there was times that we needed to be a little stronger and run through some arm tackles there, but the guys didn’t get greedy. Sometimes a running back can get greedy and bounce things that he shouldn’t or maybe make the wrong cut. Our guys are coachable, and they’re trying to do the things we ask them to do.”

With the Vols moving to 2-0, a trip to Athens is on deck. Pruitt knows his team can hang with the Bulldogs from Georgia, when asked.

“Absolutely. The last two years we’ve played them they’ve had a really good football team. I’m sure, I’ve not even watched them, but I’m sure they’ll have a really good football team this year. They’ve got good players; they’ve got good coaches, but we do too. That’s why I came to UT, and that’s why these players came to Tennessee—to play in big games like this.”

This team has grown, even through one week of competition, it’s not hard to see players that feel more comfortable.

“We have a bunch of guys that are winners. They’re good kids, good men, that work hard. They’ve got an edge about them when it comes to doing the right thing and competing. They’re coachable. It’s fun to be around them. It is for me to be around them. They might say the opposite about me, but I love coaching these guys; I love the men on our staff, everybody we’ve got men and women, and everybody in our organization. It’s exciting times for me to get up and go to work every day and be around everyone.”

“I think we’ve grown significantly. There were some things last week we weren’t on the same page, whether it be route depth or when they have option routes and things like that. I thought we took a good step this week, I was happy that Jalin (Hyatt) was able to get into the game and make some plays for us, and Malachi (Wideman) and Jimmy (Calloway) were able to get some snaps in there too.”

Guarantano spoke very highly of the wide receiver group, knowing it’s going to take continued work to improve this core.

“I think we’ve grown significantly. There were some things last week we weren’t on the same page, whether it be route depth or when they have option routes and things like that. I thought we took a good step this week, I was happy that Jalin (Hyatt) was able to get into the game and make some plays for us, and Malachi (Wideman) and Jimmy (Calloway) were able to get some snaps in there too.”

The Vols were able to capitalize on their trips to the red zone, something that has taken a few years to control.

“I think that was our emphasis going into this year. We were one of the worst teams and going into the season, myself and coach Chaney had a lot of sit-down talks and that was the biggest thing we wanted to be a lot better on was the red zone, and we were able to get it done today. I’m looking at it right here, we were close to 50 percent on third downs, and even if we didn’t convert on third down we were 4-for-4 on fourth down conversions.”

Henry To’o To’o knew the defense could bring more to the table from last week, especially after another week of practice.

“We executed. We had a lot of mental errors. There is a lot of places that we can clean up. I feel like we came out. We were strong and physical. They did not out physical us. We did a good job of beating a physical team out there. We just must clean up the details. Knowing what we must do on certain plays on certain downs and expecting what the other team is going to do.”

To’o To’o also spoke highly about feeding off the offense today, which is such a positive momentum builder for this team.

“That gives us confidence. Seeing our offense go out there and dominate. We are a family. If they do something bad, we got their backs. We do something bad they got our back. They do something good we are always there to support them, and they are always there to support us. It’s a confidence booster so when we go on the field, we can do exactly what they are doing.”

The presence of Cade Mays along the offensive line is something Trey Smith won’t be taking for granted, especially knowing he’s playing with one of his best friends.

“It was cool to finally play with him, obviously he is on the other side, but I was joking with him in between series. Cade is one of my best friends, I think everyone on the offensive line is my best friend, just having him out there was cool. When I found out he was eligible, I didn’t even really talk to him, I saw it on Twitter and Cooper (Mays) said something about it when I walked by him in the locker room. It was pretty exciting and awesome to have him out here.”

Tennessee went 4-for-4 on fourth down and 6-13 on third down. Smith understands they’re going to need this kind of success if they’re going to continue having days like Saturday.

“We just had the mentality of we’re going to go get it. I think a lot of those fourth downs were short yardage situations, which were really key based on how they play and how they align. We knew the game plan and knew what we had to do. We just had a lot of confidence and when you have a lot of confidence and believe what Coach Chaney and Coach (Will) Friend tell you – you know it’s going to work and it’s a lot easier.”

Fans haven’t seen Tennessee playing with this much confidence on the offensive line in a very long time, especially going for it on fourth down inside the 5-yard line. Smith knows its all about the synergy.

“We have a lot of good synergy within our group and we knew that when we got that close (to the end zone) we had to get it. Coming into the game that was our plan initially and when we got that close, it was only a couple of inches from the goal line for a touchdown, we had to go get it. The coaches have a lot of confidence in us and that speaks volumes and we’re thankful for that.”

The Vols will get back to the practice field this week, as they look to clean up some mistakes. But, make no mistake, these last two wins are very key in the direction of this 2020 team.

Get ready Tennessee fans, a trip to Athens awaits.

All images courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications