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Fulmer defends Pruitt, says Tennessee is better than 2-5 record shows

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Tennessee Vols Football Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

As if being 2-5 nearing the end of year three isn’t bad enough, Jeremy Pruitt now has to find a way to spin that as he makes his pitch to future recruits, along with his boss Phillip Fulmer. However, judging from Fulmer’s comments last night on Vol Calls, Pruitt isn’t having to do much selling to the third-year athletics director.

Fulmer backed his head football coach on Wednesday night, a man he hand-picked back in 2017. Here’s a snippet of what he had to say.

“An interesting statistic that I found was Coach Majors was 14-15-1 in his first 30 games and Coach Pruitt is 15-15 in his first 30 games. I really think we’re a better football team than our record has shown. Team plays hard and I think the Auburn game was a good example of that, but we’re not taking care of the ball and protecting it like we should and we certainly haven’t gotten the takeaways that you would think a normal aggressive defense would get.

“Giving great effort and taking care of the ball and getting the ball back are three of the things that you have to do to have a good team, and it’s not one particular group all the time. It’s just we’ve had a very inconsistent group and a lot of that is coming from youth. As look at the consistency of our football team, and Coach Pruitt’s said it a bunch of times, we’ve offensively and defensively just can’t have those catastrophic plays that we’ve had that have cost us games.” (Via 247Sports)

Pruitt is 15-17 during his time at Tennessee, set to welcome the No. 6 Florida Gators on Saturday. Tennessee has games left against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M that may or may not be rescheduled, depending on the COVID situation.

Pruitt has come under fire over the last two months after dropping five straight games and refusing to make a change at quarterback. Some of those ‘catastrophic plays’ that Fulmer mentioned above can be directly traced back to Pruitt’s decision to stick with Jarrett Guarantano, a fifth-year senior, in what appears to be a lost season. Tennessee’s defense has also taken a step back in 2020, currently ranked 60th in the nation after finishing 2019 ranked 29th in yards per game.

The most concerning issue comes on the recruiting front. Two key defensive prospects at positions of need have decommitted in the last week, possibly opening the floodgates for more if things continue to go south.

Fulmer touched on recruiting a little bit on Wednesday, but also blamed Tennessee’s issues on youth and COVID.

“Coach has significantly changed and upgraded the talent of this football team, and we’re still a young team in a lot of ways and a lot of guys playing from his 2019 class. Recruiting is the key. We know how to practice, we know how to prepare for a game, we know how to play physical.”

“They understand the system on both sides of the ball much better. The coaches have done a really good job of that, but young teams have probably been the most affected by all this Covid business and we needed a full spring practice.”

As I wrote earlier this week, every program in the country is dealing with COVID. It’s not an isolated issue — some programs have obviously done better handling the situation than others, and this won’t be how things are done forever. Frankly, it’s an easy excuse to justify Pruitt getting one more season. And considering the financial burden that the COVID situation has put on the university, I get it.

But the red flags keep showing up on the field. Clock management disasters, a lack of development at quarterback dating back to last year, consistent failure to adjust in the second half — this isn’t just a COVID issue.

For now though, Fulmer seems content to wait this out. And considering that the end of the season runs directly into the early signing period, it’s difficult to see any movement happening here.