This all just has to be a little strange for Jeremy Pruitt, even though he’d probably never admit to it. Pruitt is starting to come into his own as Tennessee’s head coach, fresh off an upset win on the road against the Auburn Tigers. But now, his old boss — complete with a roster that Pruitt helped assemble — will be paying him a visit this weekend.
Pruitt played for Alabama, then cut his coaching teeth at Alabama. Now he’s on the other side of one of the nastiest rivalries in all of college football.
“When you talk about Alabama, first of all you talk about the rivalry,” Pruitt told the media on Monday. “This game means a whole lot to a whole lot of people. It’s a very important game, not only because it’s the next one, but because of the tradition that comes with this game. I think we’ve got to do our part to create this rivalry again. It’s not been much of a rivalry the past few years. We have to uphold our end of it.”
The darkest times of Tennessee football have been during the brightest for Alabama. While the Vols were cycling through Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones, Alabama was racking up titles with Nick Saban. That has created an 11 game winning streak in this series for the Tide.
“Alabama has a tremendous team,” Pruitt said. “They are a complete football team. Offensively, they have lots of playmakers. It starts at quarterback. They have two guys that are really, really good. They have really good runners. They’re huge up front. They have great wide receivers who have speed and play physical and they can run with the ball after the catch.”
Alabama’s offense has been the story of the 2018 college football season. They’ve gotten to a whole new level with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, evolving into the most explosive offense in the country. The numbers might not support that statement, but Alabama hasn’t been forced to play a full game yet. Saban and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley can pretty much name their score against most opponents.
“Mike Locksley does a phenomenal job spreading the ball around and being creative,” Pruitt said. “They’re great on third down. They score touchdowns and create explosive plays. Basically, they’ve been able to do what they want to do. I mean, they’ve really had to try hard not to score a hundred points a couple of games, you know?”
As far as Alabama’s defense goes, is there anyone in the world that knows them better than Jeremy Pruitt? Just ten months ago, Pruitt was calling the defense for Nick Saban in the national championship. Now he’s about to face his old group.
“Defensively, they’ve always been very good,” Pruitt said. “They’re big up front, they’ve got guys that can rush the quarterback. They can play man-to-man. They’re really good at linebackers. All three levels they create issues. It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us. We’re looking forward to it. It’s a great measuring stick to play probably the best team in the country right now, so our players will be looking forward to it.”
Tennessee already beat one of the best defenses in the country last weekend. It was a coming out party for Jarrett Guarantano and his three main receivers. But the Vols won’t have the luxury of facing a struggling offense this week. Alabama has actually had their struggles against big plays this year, but their pass defense still ranks 29th in the country. ‘Bama ranks 33rd against the run and 15th in total defense, to nobody’s surprise.
“After watching a couple games, I was afraid to look at the defense,” Pruitt said. “I know most of the players and I know Tosh and Saban and statistically you can look at them, they’re one of the best defenses in the country. I know their personnel. They’ve got dominant players at all three levels, they’ve got playmakers that create turnovers. I’m sure there’s probably a little bit of differences, but it’ll be an attacking style defense that tries to put pressure on the quarterback.”
Vegas has placed Alabama as 28.5 point favorites for Saturday’s matchup, which can be seen at 3:30 PM eastern on CBS.