Tennessee football: Did Jeremy Pruitt just turn the corner? It certainly seems so
It’s time to wonder if Jeremy Pruitt has this whole head coaching thing figured out.
Tennessee’s recent improvement was never more evident than Saturday, when the Vols beat South Carolina handily 41-21. The fashion in which Pruitt’s team did so speaks volumes about him as a head coach.
UT and South Carolina basically played to a stalemate through the first half. The Vols trailed 21-17 against the Gamecocks. Then, Pruitt and his staff seemed to find their stride. The Vols outscored South Carolina 24-0 in the second half.
Certainly, every Tennessee fan would prefer their team to dominate an opponent for four quarters but Saturday’s win showed something every bit as impressive. Pruitt and his staff showed the ability to adjust and dominate in the second half. That’s something that only good coaches do.
Will Muschamp has had ample opportunities to prove his coaching acumen. He hasn’t done so to this point. Muschamp has been a head coach in the SEC for 8 years. He was outfoxed by Pruitt on Saturday. Not to overstate one win, but if you were buying stock on Muschamp or Pruitt, which would you choose? Pruitt is the easy choice. Pruitt seems to be on the rise while Muschamp is firmly sitting on the hot seat.
Now, for those that think I’m anointing Pruitt as the next great SEC coach, please take a moment to reassess. Tennessee should always beat South Carolina. The Vols have more resources than South Carolina. The Vols should dominate the series despite what recent history may suggest.
In some ways, Tennessee looked like the Tennessee of old on Saturday. The Vols strutted to a one-sided win despite giving up a 75-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of the game. That could have crushed a team in turmoil. The Vols apparently aren’t that team. UT responded and beat a team they should always beat. South Carolina is, well, South Carolina. It doesn’t matter if Muschamp or Brad Scott is the head coach, UT should win the vast majority of its games against the Gamecocks.
So what does this win say about the recent trend of Pruitt’s Vols? A lot. Let’s begin with the fact that the Vols didn’t give up after their awful beginning of the season. That’s a plus. More recently, UT beat Mississippi State, played hard against Alabama and defeated South Carolina. If you’re buying stock in the Vols, you’re a little late.
The Vols close out the season with a home game against UAB, two road trips versus Kentucky and Missouri and a home game against Vanderbilt. Somehow, some way the Vols could still be bowl eligible if they win 3 of those last 4 games, which now seems quite possible.
The Georgia State game will always be a thorn in the side of any tried and true UT fan, but if the Vols become bowl eligible despite that loss, then Pruitt, his staff and his team should be commended.
No, the masses won’t consider this season successful even if the Vols manage to be bowl eligible. It should. If UT makes a bowl game with a Georgia State loss on its record, a new offensive system and quarterback issues throughout the season, then Pruitt should be given an extension and a raise.
Now, all of that sounds good. Pruitt has to prove he can guide that ship. As fun as it is to imagine great things for the Vols, they will be underdogs in 2 or 3 of their last 4 games. That would suggest that Pruitt can’t close out the regular season with a bowl game bid. But based off of what I’ve seen over the past three weeks, I wouldn’t bet against him.
Pruitt continues to show that he has an end game in mind. He continues to recruit well, he’s consistent in his approach in how he handles his team and he isn’t swayed by outside criticism. Pruitt has all the tools at his disposal. He’s growing Tennessee’s program.
If he isn’t as successful as UT deems necessary then he’ll set the stage for someone who will be.