Tennessee football: Pruitt, Vols get critical statement win over Kentucky
Tennessee’s statement win against Kentucky on Saturday was punctuated by a Jeremy Pruitt tirade that provided plenty of insight as to what the first-year head coach expects his Vols team to be.
With the game in hand late, Pruitt lit into defensive back Marquill Osborne after the sophomore intercepted a pass from Kentucky quarterback Gunnar Hoak then threw an ill-advised lateral to his teammates. It wasn’t a good look. The pitch could have resulted in a turnover, but at the very least could have been considered showboating.
The Vols kept possession but Pruitt wasn’t very happy and gave Osborne got an earful. It’s impossible to say whether the Vols will be championship worthy under Pruitt one day, but it’s clear that as long as he has his way, there will be no excuses for Tennessee making stupid mistakes.
Surely Osborne, nor his family watching on national television, wasn’t too happy about getting dressed down as the game concluded. Pruitt didn’t care. Pruitt knows that the incident will make Osborne a better player if he chooses to use it as a learning experience. That’s up to Osborne. Pruitt is intent on building a culture of discipline.
That discipline was evident in UT’s defensive line assignments. The Vols held one of the SEC’s best rushing attacks to just 77 yards on the ground. The Cats averaged nearly 200 yards per game coming in. This was a successful Kentucky team because it was physical running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense. The Wildcats are successful, but predictable. Pruitt knew as much.
“We challenged our players this week that we wanted to have the most rushing yards, and I think we did,” Pruitt said. “I thought for the first time, we had a little bit of physicality for the entire game. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely very positive. I know those guys are enjoying that in the locker room. I thought defensively, we kept them from creating explosive plays. We kind of made them one-dimensional and it’s a lot easier to guard the pass if you make them one-dimensional.”
While Kentucky struggled on the ground, the Vols picked up 215 yards rushing. That goes back to the physicality Pruitt mentioned. Under Pruitt, the Vols won’t be overtly passive as they were under former head coach Butch Jones. Being physical will be a requirement to being a Vol as long as Pruitt is in charge.
The Vols have a home game against Missouri and a road game against Vanderbilt left on their schedule. At 5-5, the Vols need one more win to become bowl eligible. If they do that, this season should be considered a huge success considering where they came from. While these Vols seem to be surging through the dog days of November, Tennessee’s players practically quit last season.
Certainly, the Vols had nothing to brag about just a week ago as they trudged through a 14-3 win against Charlotte, a team UT should have hammered. That game was a reminder that the Vols lack some of the discipline which leads to consistency. That’s Pruitt’s next step — to make sure his players are ready to play every week. To coin a phrase from Coaching 101, it’s a process. However the season ends, it’s a safe bet that any Vol will think twice before casually mishandling the ball. Such a mistake in the future will lead to a stern message from Pruitt no matter the score. Pruitt intends to uphold a standard. That could lead to good things for the Vols.
This Tennessee team is much better equipped to finish a season strong than last year. Why? Discipline. Osborne can attest to that.