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In just two seasons under Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee has improved dramatically in this key defensive category

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No more big plays!

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Indiana v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

In an age of electric offenses and video game numbers, Phillip Fulmer opted to go old school and take the defensive route with his first hire as Tennessee’s AD. Jeremy Pruitt was his pick to lead the Volunteers, coming off of strong stints at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama as defensive coordinator.

Tennessee fans weren’t quite sure how Pruitt would perform as a head coach, but they were pretty confident in his ability as a defensive coordinator. At the very least, an upgrade in coaching should improve some defensive numbers while Pruitt adds talent in Knoxville. That was the thought process, at least — and that’s exactly what has happened.

Tennessee improved from 82nd to 49th in total defense from 2017 to 2018, then from 49th to 23rd from 2018 to 2019. How did they improve so dramatically? By limiting big plays.

Outside of a bumpy first few games of each season in the Pruitt era, Tennessee has been really stingy on defense. This stat below from Bill Martin tells you just how stingy they’ve been. Tennessee has only allowed 29 plays of 30 yards or more in the last two years, placing them second in that category in that time span.

Tennessee is far from a finished product, but this paints a picture of just how important coaching is. These numbers should only improve as the Volunteers add talent — something Pruitt and his staff are also excelling at.

The Volunteers will return eight starters on defense in 2020, looking to find replacements for Darrell Taylor, Daniel Bituli and Nigel Warrior. An experienced defensive line and secondary should ease the blow of losing those three players, however. The linebacking core, really all four linebacker positions, are the wildcard here. Tennessee will have to play plenty of youth in those spots, but this coaching staff has proven that they can develop defensive talent.

Remember, ESPN’s Bill Connelly believes that Tennessee’s defensive trajectory will continue this fall. He projects the Volunteers to have a top ten defense when football returns.