The Tennessee defense played pretty darn well last Saturday against the second ranked Georgia Bulldogs. A turnover from Jeremy Banks and several lucky Georgia bounces (I mean really, how do you fumble four times and not lose any of them) assisted the Bulldogs’ offense on a day where they pretty clearly were not at their best.
Bottomline — the Tennessee defense certainly did their part. Darrell Taylor was firing off the edge and the Vols’ young secondary held up really well. Jeremy Pruitt praised them after the game, calling it their best effort to date.
Part of that young secondary is three freshmen, each of whom are seeing substantial playing time. Outside of a couple of plays against West Virginia, Bryce Thompson, Alontae Taylor and Trevon Flowers have really played well considering that they were baptized by fire.
On Wednesday, Pruitt gave his thoughts on their progress.
“Well I’d like to see them play with a little toughness, play with more of an edge—practice everyday that way so you can create the right habits,” Pruitt told the media on Wednesday. “Eliminate mistakes, you know, these guys do a lot of really good things, but they’ve got a long ways to go.”
Keep in mind that Pruitt has recruited and developed some of the best secondaries in college football over the past decade. He knows what it’s supposed to look like, but he’s having to do it for now without an endless flow of five-star talent.
“Like I told them, they’re really not freshmen anymore,” Pruitt said. “They’ve been here long enough and they’ve played in enough games that they need to raise their level of play.”
Regardless of what Pruitt tells the media, he’s got to be quietly pleased with this group, all things considered. Through two SEC games, they really haven’t been the problem. If anything, they were a strength against Georgia, holding Jake Fromm to just 185 yards passing.
The longest pass that Tennessee surrendered against Georgia was just 23 yards. It was the first game all season that Fromm didn’t have a 40+ yard completion. That’s proof of progress, both in the secondary and with the pass rush—well maybe just Darrell Taylor.
Though they “have a long ways to go” as Pruitt says, it’s encouraging to see the progress this early. It makes me feel confident in commits like Tyus Fields, Warren Burrell, Jaylen McCollough and Anthony Harris.
Hopefully the offensive side catches up a little bit during the bye week.