By: Rachel Ward
The All Vol Call in Show
September 4, 2019
Saturday’s Tennessee-Georgia State outcome was one that few to none saw coming, and senior safety Nigel Warrior might have summed it up best with his response of “flabbergasted.”
Since the 2018 Tennessee football season ended with a painful 38-13 loss against Vanderbilt, Volunteer fans and staff have been yet again searching for more and searching for the historically winning program that the University of Tennessee football program once was.
On paper, “hopeful” was the word that many used when predicting and looking to what the 2019 football season would bring. On paper, it could be argued that this 2019 Tennessee coaching staff is one of the best in the country. Hearing the name “Tee Martin” announced as a new addition to the coaching staff was enough for many to be bought in. This 2019 team has a coach who has been there and knows what it takes for a Tennessee program to win on the highest level of college football.
During his first press conference of fall camp a month ago, Coach Pruitt wasn’t afraid to show his confidence in the men working alongside him.
“I truly believe with them on our staff..when you talk about recruiting, relationships, character, all the intangibles that comes with being a football coach, I truly believe that we do have the best staff in the country.” Pruitt said.
After Saturday’s loss to Georgia State, questions such as “what happened?” and “where do they go from here?” have arose, especially after the confidence Coach Pruitt voiced just a month prior.
While this loss is heart wrenching to the Volunteer fan base who have been through the ups and downs of Tennessee football the past 10 years, the players on the field and the coaches on the sidelines feel it too. This was seen in post game interviews as the same questions went through their heads.
Coach Pruitt’s Post Game Thoughts
As Coach Pruitt entered the room for his post game press conference, interviewees were eager to ask him what was next and what would be improved upon.
“We didn’t put the ball in the end zone or finish the half with the ball right there. We had three shots in the end zone for the chance to create a touchdown and didn’t do that,” Pruitt said. “You know, defensively, it would be hard for me to point out anything that we really did well.”
Two words that Pruitt referred back to multiple times were “execution” and “fundamentals.”
“There’s more to being a good defensive player than just playing hard,” Pruitt said. “And we’ve got to teach the guys how to play the plays, how to get lined up, and to be able to execute.”
As far as the team’s performance in the second half, Pruitt again referred back to lack of execution, feeling as though the team had a good plan moving into the second half.
“We weren’t far away at a lot of times, but we weren’t where we needed to be...We’ve got some young guys and they’ve got talent, but we gotta coach ‘em up and get ‘em to play at a high level,” Pruitt said. “I’m not saying their team is better than ours. I’m saying today, their team was and that’s all that counts.”
Not only did Pruitt voice the need for the players to get better, but he looked to himself as well.
“I’m not blaming the kids,” Pruitt said. “Like I told the players in the locker room, everybody needs to look in the mirror ‘cause it’s what I’m gonna do and say, ‘What can I do better to help our football team?’ and ‘I’m gonna start with me.’”
How does this Tennessee football team improve? For Coach Pruitt, that means practicing, playing and coaching with edge at all times.
“Are we all disappointed today? Sure we are,” Pruitt said. “But the sun is gonna come up tomorrow and we’re gonna get ready to play BYU starting tomorrow and we gotta bring our best game next Saturday.”
Jauan Jennings: “As a Leader”
Looking at Jennings’ performance on paper with seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown, he had one of the best performances on the Vols’ side of the ball. To Jennings, however, he takes full responsibility for the lack of competitiveness in himself and his teammates.
In Jennings’ multiple post game interviews, the phrase “as a leader” was used a countless number of times. As an athlete who was dismissed from the team in 2017 following a social media rant, Jennings’ change in personal growth and maturity is substantial. He wants to be a leader and he wants to be the “alpha male” in any room he walks into.
Gaining the respect of many Volunteer fans and beyond, Jennings was quick to acknowledge the loss as “unacceptable,” noting that there is and will be work to do.
In Jennings’ terms, this team was not “juiced” up like they should have been on the sidelines. And who does Jennings’ blame that on? Himself.
“I take full responsibility of that,” Jennings said. “I gotta be out there and I gotta be in their heads and in their ears 24/7. As a leader, I admit that I did not do that. So this week and from here on out, what I’m gonna focus on doing is making sure this team knows we have a lot of fight left in us and we’re not gonna give up.”
When asked how he would make sure the team moved forward with the same competitive edge that he had, Jennings was quick to respond.
“As a leader this week, I come out each and every day fired up and let these guys know that what happened last week was unacceptable and won’t happen again,” Jennings said.
Jennings then shared the message he had for the team he leads.
“My message is to come out each and every day to get better. Don’t come out here with no energy,” Jennings said. “You’ve got to have energy each and every day. That’s how we are gonna do this thing from here on out.”
With 11 games left in the season, Jennings noted that this season is a 12-game fight that he signed up for.
“This team. They believe in me and I believe in them and that’s all that
matters,” Jennings said in his closing statement.