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Jeremy Pruitt explains pulling Harrison Bailey after hot start against Vanderbilt

It was a strange time to make a change.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Vanderbilt, I get it. They had 49 scholarship players, I get it. But still, it was nice to see some legitimately good quarterback play from the Volunteers on Saturday night in Nashville.

Tennessee once again started true freshman Harrison Bailey, but Jeremy Pruitt said before the game that he also planned on playing J.T. Shrout — which he did. However, the timing of that decision was just a little bit odd.

Bailey started 7-7, and not even really a conservative 7-7. He was making throws in the intermediate and taking advantage of a Vanderbilt defense that only had 18 scholarship players available. He was in a groove, until he was hit during a pass that was somehow ruled a fumble.

(It was not a fumble)

Pruitt replaced Bailey with J.T. Shrout on the following drive.

“We kind of went a feel for it there,” Pruitt explained after the game. “Let me tell you, Harrison is not going to do anything but improve, right? On the fumble there, lots of things that he needs it work on. It’s not knowing what to do or where to go with the ball. It’s how fast that he plays. And that’s normal for a guy that’s going into this league.”

The quarterback change briefly disrupted Tennessee’s offensive rhythm, which quickly allowed Vanderbilt to take a lead. That lead didn’t last long, as the talent discrepancy finally took over.

Shrout earned that opportunity in practice, per Pruitt. And we all saw him earn this opportunity on the field against Florida last week. It’s nothing against Shrout at all, who may actually be the most physically talented quarterback on the roster, but it was an odd time to make a change.

“We had a plan to play JT because he played really well last week, just to see how he would do this week,” Pruitt said. “We thought he did well. Decided to go back with Harrison at halftime and gave them both opportunities. But they’re both young players. The one thing they missed with fall camp is the opportunities to play in live situations. The way the season started early, it didn’t work out that way. So we’re giving them both opportunities.”

Bailey was the leading passer on the night for Tennessee, ending 14-18 for 207 yards and two scores. Shrout finished 6-13 with two scores and an interception.

It was clear from the start that Jim Chaney wanted to be more aggressive in the passing game against the Commodores, and it was good to see both guys get an opportunity to work down the field a little bit.

Tennessee has one regular season game left against Texas A&M next week, and we’ll see what happens with a bowl bid from there.