Jeremy Pruitt is trying to pick up the pieces after an embarrassing loss to Georgia State on Saturday afternoon. Tennessee dropped the first of what was supposed to be three easy wins on their non-conference slate. Now already in a hole, the Volunteers have to find a way to right those wrongs before BYU shows up on Saturday night.
Most concerning was the play of the defense, which couldn’t even get lined up correctly for much of the second half. Tennessee couldn’t get off the field, allowing third down conversion after third down conversion.
After watching the tape, Pruitt talked about that side of the ball on Monday.
“We’re going to continue to improve on that side of the ball,” Pruitt said on Monday. “In the last couple of weeks we’ve lost key players on all three levels. We’ve had to move guys around. I said early on we needed to keep it simple so we can execute, right? When you play a team for the first time, new coordinator — are they going to do what they did there last year? You’re going to get lots of multiples. So you’ve got to be able to lineup and give yourself a chance.”
Tennessee was not able to line up on Saturday. On the go-ahead touchdown run, the Vols were in a state of panic, just trying to get the right personnel on the field and lined up in the right spot. It’s no surprise that the Panthers were able to rip through a confused defense to regain the lead.
How do you not take a timeout here? pic.twitter.com/rkMQTpbEEq— Houston Kress (@VolRumorMill) September 1, 2019
That wasn’t an isolated incident, either.
#Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt has preached the struggle of just lining up on defense throughout camp and again last night in postgame.— Eric Cain (@_Cainer) September 1, 2019
This was 3rd & 10 that Ellington scrambled left to pickup first down. pic.twitter.com/VcmDIL4KAX
“We had a few alignment issues,” Pruitt continued. “I think a lot of it just comes with experience. It was all three levels of the defense. But it’s something that we can fix.”
Tennessee was without senior defensive tackle Emmit Gooden, senior linebacker Daniel Bituli, senior cornerback Baylen Buchanan and standout sophomore cornerback Bryce Thompson on Saturday. We predicted some rough moments for this defense last week, but nothing like what we saw on Saturday.
Derrick Ansley’s defense was gutted of leadership, which proved to be the determining factor in the massive upset. But still — these are elementary things we’re talking about. Tennessee was gashed time and time again, failing to make adjustments in-game.
“On the defensive side, we’ve got to improve,” Pruitt told reporters. “We’ve got to be able to execute, we’ve got to be able to make adjustments in a game. If you look at that 3rd and 10, we’ve got 10 guys that does it right. The one guy that don’t, that’s where the ball gets completed. So there was a lot of that.”
The bad news? That leadership isn’t coming back anytime soon. Tennessee may get Bituli back this week, but Gooden is done for the year. Buchanan’s spine injury is tricky and Thompson’s situation remains under investigation. Pruitt and Ansley don’t have time to wait on those guys.
And guess what? Pruitt just compared BYU’s quarterback Zach Wilson to that of Johnny Manziel. This coming just two days after Dan Ellington carved up the Volunteers both through the air and on the ground. So a similar challenge is coming at them on Saturday night, can the staff simplify the defensive scheme enough to get that side of the ball competitive?
“The most you improve is from the first week leading to the second week,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got a great opportunity starting today to do that. If we’re made the right way — I’m talking about what’s inside of us — you go back and you dig a little deeper and you try a little harder.”