Thought to be a pack of ball-hawking, noggin-thumping men with lotsa hate in their hearts for opposing football players, the Tennessee defensive backfield hasn’t gotten the chance to wreak the havoc we’d hoped for. Not yet, anyway.
Football things happened, as they tend to do in football, and the secondary has been a dynamic (as in the opposite of static or non-changing) quilt of squares patched-together by Pruitt and Ansley rather than someone’s dear, sweet, wonderful grandmother.
*Large, impeccably plain and square room.
*Fluorescent lights. Rocking chairs and well-worn, knock-off La-Z Boys. A vase of cheap, stale- but not-yet wilted flowers sits on the corner of the med-window’s counter. The stalks and petals are crowded a bit by a few cups of pens and a single clipboard.
*The sound of the nurses’ icy-white shoes squishing on the padded vinyl floor drowns out the soft snores emanating from several men and women, all in sweaters or cardigans, getting some well-earned rest before the finality of eternal rest descends.
*An older Pruitt, with somehow even less hair, is comfortably doing some crocheting or knitting, his lap covered by a glorious orange and white checkered quilt. Throughout his quiet days, every so often but with long-term, nerve-racking (for the nurses) consistency, gets up just to walk by Kirby Smart and middle-finger THUMP him straight in the forehead, just to return to his easy chair, chuckle a bit and continue to enjoy his ride off into the Tennessee Orange sunset.
(NOTE: in the REAL South, it’s a well-worn in quilt, every time, over any other possible blanket you could make the mistake of trying to use instead. I worked in not one, but two references to quilts in a football story. King me now. #QuiltsRLyfe.)
I’m sorry — usually my tangents are shorter, closer to some relevant topic and funnier, but thinking of Pruitt knitting and then busting a curmudgeon-turned Kirby in the dome piece was too delightful for me to leave out. With me, the jokes can’t all be humdingers. Sometimes It’s about the pleasant journey, not the punch-line destination.
OKAY — so if literally any of you are still with me, let’s get back to the secondary.
The season’s initially-slated nickelback, Shawn Shamburger, got hurt and hasn’t played yet this season. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, true freshman and All-Name team member Doneiko Slaughter got the start in the Shamburglar’s absence. He played well, considering he drew a short straw and had to chase around SC’s best WR Shi Smith for most of the game. Smith finished with 10 snags for 140 yards and beat Slaughter on a slant route that scored a TD, made Shi look good and Slaughter look considerably less good. Big picture: Slaughter was the only true freshman to start against SC and finished the game with three tackles and a sack. I can live with that given the trial-by-blue-fire he fought through trying to keep up with Smith, whose been quite the thorn stuck in the Tennessee lion’s paw.
Bryce Thompson, a corner, played safety against SC and then didn’t play much against the Tigers due to an injury. Kenneth George got beat deep against SC but played better against Missouri. Tre Flowers logged 50 snaps at safety against SC but played just 35 snaps with 13 snaps in the box and then led the team with 10 tackles. Jaylen McCollough had five tackles against the Tigers with 37 snaps at safety and 18 at nickel. Against SC, he had just four tackles in only 20 secondary snaps.
Look, really, this is just a lot of words and numbers to say that the secondary is a bit of a mess right now. Sorta like pieces going where a part should go and a part going where pieces oughta go.
GOOD NEWS: Pruitt cleared both Shamburger and Thompson for this weekend’s matchup against Georgia.
(MOSTLY UNRELATED NOTE: Kirby Smart played What’s-his-name Fromm over Justin Fields in Field’s freshman season, then Fields transferred to Ohio State and lights up Little-Ten defenses weekly while Fromm is, uh, doing something, somewhere, I guess. If he’s got a good agent, he’s selling insurance.
UGA’s had QB issues to start the season. D’Wan Mathis didn’t perform well, at all, and now former walk-on turned scholarship player and surprising starter Stetson Bennett is recovering from a hand injury from last week’s game against Auburn. Rumors out of Athens say that now UGA might even be having campus-wide open tryouts for the QB spot for the rest of this year.
(I made up that rumor.)
BAD NEWS: Georgia has really good wide receivers.
George Pickens gets most of the headlines, cuz he’s like really good or whatever, and he does lead the Dogs in TD catches (two). But he’s got just six catches on the year. The real star for Georgia has been Kearis Jackson. He’s UGA’s leading pass catcher and ranks seventh in the SEC in total receptions with 15. These two guys could make it a long day for Tennessee’s secondary if Pruitt and Ansley don’t have things straightened out back there.
The forecast is calling for rain, so maybe none of this will really matter much. It could be a grind-it-out type game for both teams with which team wins at the line of scrimmage really making the difference.