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Pruitt: My Job is to Coach

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Some of Pruitt’s answers from the Auburn post-game press conference

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

Following Tennessee’s 30-17 loss to Auburn — the team’s fifth straight, all by double-digit margins— Pruitt was asked if he had a message to the fans regarding the direction of the football program.

“That ain’t my job, guys. My job is to coach. If you want to ask me a football question, ask me a football question.”

In the past, Pruitt has acknowledged he knows the fanbase is unhappy, and he basically said he shared that sentiment and understood.

But last night, he wasn’t having it. And I get that — to an extent. But as head coach, you are the premier ambassador of the football program and need to be selling it, spinning it, whatever anytime you can. That’s tough after another loss during a game in which the two teams were tied at halftime and the Vols came out holding the short stick, again.

When he was asked about the second-half woes of late, he said he was only going to talk about last night’s game. Okay — that’s fair. He’s answered this question before, I’m pretty sure, but when you consider how absolutely atrocious Tennessee has been in second halves recently, as head coach you might want to bend a little and say something about what the hell is going on.

Here’s Pruitt’s full response to the question:

“Well, I’m going to talk about this game because this is the one that just happened. In the second quarter, we had a busted coverage and they threw a touchdown. In the third quarter there, we put a good drive together. We turned the ball over and they ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown. So that’s a 10-point swing. And we missed two field goals. We didn’t get off the field on third down like we’d like to. Couple of them, I made bad calls. So there’s lots of things that go around. I thought our kids played extremely hard. (Auburn has) a good football team and they beat us today.”

Pruitt didn’t throw the 100-yard pick six, and he didn’t miss two field goals. There’s just so much a coach can do, but on that third quarter drive, the Vols ran the ball on eight of ten snaps and racked up 63 yards. And instead of continuing to run the ball, the offense called a pass play that led to a poor route from the WR, a bad decision from the QB and a touchdown for the opposing defense. The game went from a three-point Tiger lead to a 10-point Auburn lead, and the Vols never recovered.

Eric Gray had a wonderful game — 22 carries for 173 yards and a touchdown. When Pruitt was asked about Gray’s performance, he managed to not even mention Gray’s name in his answer.

“I thought our offensive line blocked well. Really, we moved the ball pretty well from 30 to 30. We didn’t come away with points three times. That was a big part of the game. Then just getting off the field on third down defensively.”

Um, well, okay.

Gray fueled the Vols’ offense all night, churning out the majority of Tennessee’s 200-yard plus rushing yard total for the game. Last night, he looked like far and away the best player on this team. That’s a bright spot.

The QB situation continues to boggle minds — Guarantano wasn’t horrible, but the pick-six was just an absolutely horrible play that totally changed the trajectory of the game. After the game, Pruitt was asked, again, if the fifth-year senior still gives Tennessee the best chance to win games.

“Absolutely. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t play him. I mean, guys, he didn’t miss two field goals. He didn’t blow a coverage. There’s lots of things. Did he make a mistake? He made a mistake. Absolutely. I made mistakes in the game. Ok? So the bottom line is, guys, we all have to execute a little bit better to be productive, so we can score more points on Saturday than the other team does.”

At this point in the season, the record is what it is, and Tennessee plays two top-10 opponents in the final three games. Playing Guarantano anymore, at all, seems entirely silly and damn-near crazy. This season is a disappointment, and nothing that is going to happen in the next three contests will change that.

Freshman QB Harrison Bailey got some more late-game snaps, and he went 7-10 for 86 yards with no interceptions. It’s time to give him the reigns and see what happens. We’re losing games anyway, so what’s the worst that could happen? In the post-game presser, Pruitt (sort of) answered a question about Bailey’s play.

“I think you have to evaluate everybody in our program. Our goal is to win every game. Every week we play the guys that give us the best opportunity. So we’ll continue to do that. We had to see how each guy played in this game and figure out, moving forward, what’s the best option.”

Yeah. Well, okay then.

Tennessee gets a bit of a reprieve with Vandy next week before facing off against Florida and Texas A&M. The Vols have been more bug than windshield all season, and I don’t see that changing as the season closes out.