Tennessee fans got a treat from Jeremy Pruitt this spring. The fans all got to witness an actual game take place during the Orange and White Game. In years past Butch Jones always opted to go with the “glorified scrimmage” technique, rather than a legit game. So, it refreshing to see an actual scrimmage, as opposed to circle of life drills and quarterback gauntlets.
It allowed everyone to get a glimpse of what the team will look like come Fall. There will definitely be more changes made between now and then, but now we have an early look at who is excelling and who is failing. Keep in mind this is only based of the results of one game, and like Pruitt said, the results of the O&W Game do not reflect the entire spring.
Pruitt handed out three awards following the conclusion of the game Saturday. Jarrett Guarantano won the MVP award for his performance. He finished with 226 passing yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers don’t sound too exciting, but he really managed the game well and made some great throws. He already looks like a completely different player than he did under Jones.
Eli Wolf won the Harvey Robinson Award, given to the most improved player throughout spring practice. He had a good game too, catching five balls for 63 yards and a touchdown. For the defense, Kyle Phillips won the Andy Spiva Award for most improved defensive player. Phillips took reps with the first team defense and recorded one sack and four tackles.
There were several other players who impressed who did not receive awards. The first that comes to mind is running back Tim Jordan. Jordan will likely be a backup this Fall, but he did not play like a backup on Saturday. Jordan got most of his work in the first half where he gained 50 rushing yards and a touchdown on five carries.
Marquez Calloway and Jordan Palmer both had pretty good games for the receiver group. Palmer led all receivers with 77 yards and Calloway impressed as usual hauling in a one-on-one jump ball in the corner of the end zone for the Orange Team’s first touchdown. The receivers still have a lot to prove, but with the addition of Jauan Jennings in a few months, this could become a dangerous group.
One of the players who has the most hype surrounding him is Alontae Taylor. He was recruited as a receiver, but got work with the second team defense on Saturday. He did not make any huge plays, but he was always in good position, and made his presence felt. Taylor might be getting work with the second team right now, but it would not be shocking to see him get significant playing time this season.
The last player might come as a surprise but kicker Brent Cimaglia had a terrific game. He was perfect on the day with four PAT’s and two 40+ field goals. Obviously this is a small sample size, but considering Tennessee’s kicking troubles in the past, Cimaglia’s performance was inspiring to say the least.
There were several players who stood out for positive reasons, but there were just as many, if not more, who stood out because of negative reasons. For starters, the entire first team defense was extremely mediocre, and that is being generous.
Guarantano and the rest of the offense just absolutely had their way with the defense. Pruitt didn’t keep his displeasure a secret, either. He blasted them during the halftime interview, calling them out for making the offense look better than they are. Sure, there were a couple players who had noteworthy moments, but for the most part no first team defensive player played up to standard. The linebacker group struggled the most, but that should change once Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Daniel Bituli return from injury.
Probably the biggest disappointment from Saturday was Tyler Byrd. Byrd was moved to the defensive side of the ball, just to be moved back to offense this spring. Then, come game time he suited up with the second team offense. His performance during the game was frustrating to watch, too. His first target of the game was a ball that hit him right in the hands and deflected in the air that resulted in an interception.
He finished the game with zero receptions and left plenty to be desired. Despite this performance there is still time for him to improve. He has all the potential in the world and a competent coaching staff that will hopefully pull that out of him.
The O&W game confirmed that there is still a ton of work for Pruitt to do. This team is not where they need to be yet, and it won’t be an overnight fix, either.
Regardless, this team is in a much better place than they were six months ago, and it will only improve.