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Pruitt talks mistakes, offensive struggles, defensive lapses after loss to Georgia

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee took a lead into halftime over the Georgia Bulldogs, somehow digging themselves out of a hole that early mistakes created. Nothing about the game was particularly executed well for the Volunteers, but somehow, Tennessee was leading on Saturday afternoon against the No. 3 Bulldogs.

And then instantly out of the break, things fell apart. Tennessee had a chance to overcome all of the early penalties and chase an upset bid — instead they produced three second half turnovers, allowing Georgia to run away with a 44-21 win.

“Just, first of all, like to give credit to Georgia, thought they really out-played us there in the second half,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “You can’t turn the ball over three times and expect to win. We turned the ball over three times in the second half. Once for a defensive score. Two times. I don’t even think they made a first down and kicked field goals. So there’s 13 points there that really change the game.”

Jarrett Guarantano opened the second half with a fumble and an interception, then closed the game with another fumble. He was under constant pressure for much of the day, but Georgia turned things up in the third quarter. His brilliant second quarter was undone by a trio of mistakes, along with a dreadful performance by the offensive line.

Pruitt said after the game that a change at quarterback never entered his mind.

“I don’t really know where that would’ve helped,” Pruitt said. “It starts with protection. That’s the first thing. And getting guys open. If you can’t run the football, you’ve got a tough day’s work. We’re sitting there down 16 with a chance there possibly to score and get a two-point conversion. But we didn’t get it done.”

Multiple three and outs and quick turnovers led to a tired Tennessee defense, which eventually allowed the Bulldogs to score almost at will. Lapses in coverage, particularly in the middle of the field, doomed Tennessee’s defensive efforts. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett proved to be just slippery enough to extend plays and make things happen.

“Made a lot of mistakes on the defensive side, especially on third down,” Pruitt said. “And that’s on me. It ain’t on nobody else. It’s on me. I learned a long time ago that you have to be able to do what your players can do, and if they can’t do it, you’ve got to do a better job coaching them up. And I have to do a better job doing that.”

Tennessee has a chance to grow and learn from this with a scrimmage set for Sunday night in Knoxville. They’ll then move on to Kentucky, fresh off of a 21-2 win over Mississippi State. After that, it’s Alabama.

The winning streak is over, and with an all SEC schedule in 2020, there’s no time to catch your breath. Let’s see how this group responds.