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Tennessee’s Hail Mary at the end of the first half against Kentucky almost never happened

Pruitt admitted that it wasn’t the initial plan.

Kentucky v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

A 10-0 lead over the 11th ranked Kentucky Wildcats was enough for Jeremy Pruitt heading into halftime. The Vols got a stop and got the ball back with one minute left in the half on their own 28. Tennessee’s first year head coach simply wanted to run the clock out and head to the locker room, until things changed.

Offensive coordinator Tyson Helton called a quick pass that went incomplete, then Ty Chandler ripped off a 14 yard gain. Suddenly, Tennessee was on their own 44 yard line with 13 seconds to play. After another completion to Marquez Callaway, Jarrett Guarantano took a shot at the endzone to end the half. Callaway and Jauan Jennings were both there to bring it in, with Callaway finishing the job and giving Tennessee a 17-0 lead at halftime.

After the game, Pruitt admitted that the Hail Mary wasn’t in his plans.

“We wasn’t really trying to be aggressive,” Pruitt said. “We were trying to run the clock out. Last thing we wanted to do was turn the ball over up ten when we were getting the ball back at half. We didn’t want to give them something positive.”

Pruitt even admitted that he wasn’t happy with Helton’s play call on first down, which stopped the clock.

“The first play, we throw a bubble and the clock stopped, so I wasn’t real happy about that,” Pruitt continued. “The ball is on the 27-yard line. Once we got a first down, we had a little bit of field position, I think there’s probably maybe 13 or 15 seconds left at that point in time, so now you got a chance.”

That 14 yard run by Ty Chandler ended up changing the game for the Vols.

“We ended up a little out of field goal range, so we took a shot. I thought Jarrett Guarantano did a good job evading the rush there and Marquez Callaway went up and got it.”

It’s an oddly familiar scenario, isn’t it? Pruitt was faced with a task of having to gain 30-40 yards with under a minute to play against South Carolina, holding a 14-9 lead. He chose to sit on the ball and drain the clock instead. Tennessee ended up losing that game by three points.

Luckily this time for the Vols, Pruitt kind of fell into being aggressive. The touchdown didn’t matter in the end, but putting that Kentucky offense down 17-0 felt like the final nail in the coffin.

Maybe total trust isn’t there yet with Jarrett Guarantano. Maybe it’s the inconsistent pass protection. Maybe it’s the lack of time playing with a lead. Whatever it is, I’d love to see Pruitt gain enough confidence to be aggressive in these spots.