Vols notch second conference win against South Carolina.
By: Rachel Ward
The All Vol Call In Show
Tennessee fans saw a glimpse of the Tennessee team they once knew in the first quarter of the Georgia game. Following their match up against UGA, the Vols notched their first conference win of the season against Mississippi State before putting up a fight with a dominant Alabama team on Alabama’s home turf. After the Vols’ shut out performance against South Carolina in the second half, they’ve gained confidence as a team. Not only that, but Vol fans have found a new confidence in head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
From a season that started out with an unexpected loss and what seemed like a long road ahead, the Vols have created conversation about the possibility of bowl eligibility. Pruitt and his team have seemed to find what they’ve been looking for—continual improvement.
Fan Base Support
Following the win against South Carolina, Pruitt used his opening statements to thank the people that he believes are a vital part of Tennessee’s success. The fan base.
“First off, I just want to say ‘thanks to the fans. You talk about a spectacular atmosphere. When you feel the energy, the emotion that’s in our fanbase, how hungry everybody that’s associated with our program is here, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to come to Tennessee,” Pruitt said.
In addition to seeing his coaching skills translate to the field, Pruitt has also been busy in recruiting, bringing in top players from in state and around the country. From a recruiting standpoint, Pruitt believes that the players who come to Tennessee will also be gaining the best fan base in the country.
“You feel it when you walk down the Vol Walk. You feel it running through the T. When it’s fourth and six, or you score a touchdown, our fans are as good or better than anyone in the country,” Pruitt said. “They’re the best. That’s the word I need to use.”
South Carolina Game Takeaways
In a game that opened up with South Carolina scoring the first drive and a Tennessee team down four going into the half, the Vols showed up to play coming out of the locker room and heading into the third quarter.
“You look at this game, South Carolina scores the first play of the game. You know, nobody blinked. We knew the mistakes we made on the play. We corrected them,” Pruitt said.
As far as the performance he saw from his players, Pruitt said that it was the team he has continuously seen during practice. The improvement has been there.
“I’ve been saying this for awhile and you guys probably think I’m crazy, but I keep talking about what good practices we have, and you can see the development of the young players on our team and the old players on our team,” Pruitt said. “Our guys continually improve. They’re creating the right habits. The buy-in and the effort has never been a problem. This group has been bought in and practicing with the right effort the whole time, so it’s good to see that we had an opportunity to put it on display tonight.”
Even with a shut out second half and a conference win, Pruitt stated there are mistakes to work on and address. Talking about the first half of offensive play, Pruitt noted that the offense struggled to move the ball and that the staff wasn’t aggressive enough. Defensively, Pruitt called himself out, noting that his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty didn’t help in holding South Carolina.
“I didn’t help the guys. I got a penalty and I can’t do that. Gave em four extra yards there. Probably would have held em if I kept my mouth shut, but I’m gonna take up for my players. I guarantee you that,” Pruitt said.
Coming out of the first half, Pruitt praised his guys for adapting to adversity. Some adversity included QB injuries with the loss of Guarantano to a wrist injury and Maurer out from a concussion. Tennessee also lost players throughout the game in Wanya Morris, Darrell Taylor and Darel Middleton. Pruitt described the way the team responded in the second half as “fantastic.”
“You look at our team and tonight was a chance for our program to grow up. We had guys who didn’t know if they were gonna play before the game started. We had to make game time decisions,” Pruitt said. “We keep talking about finding a way to win. We found a way to win tonight against to me, a really good football team. And we outplayed them tonight.”
In terms of outplaying South Carolina, Pruitt noted that the second half was one that the Vols dominated “in all phases.” The energy of the crowd and the Vols’ defense dominated on third downs, and wide receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway showed out. The duo gained 276 receiving yards collectively. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp commented on the Jennings/Callaway duo.
“We just didn’t cover 15 (Jennings) and 1 (Callaway). We really had a hard time matching up on those guys. We knew that going into the game,” Muschamp said. “We’ve had a hard time matching up with them since they’ve been here.”
Jennings has been a huge topic of conversation this season among the Tennessee fan base. Pruitt has noted that he’s a leader and will leave his mark on Tennessee, describing his energy as “contagious.”
“Jauan has passion for the game, he has passion for his teammates, he has passion for the University of Tennessee. He shows it every single day. What you see on Saturday is what we see on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” Pruitt said. “He is consistent. In the way he prepares, the way he practices and it shows up on Saturdays. And I think sometimes that can be contagious. And you need guys like that. Jauan has that way about him.”
After the win against South Carolina, Pruitt described the locker room as “awesome” before stating that his guys “are fired up and I’m happy for them.” Pruitt and his team will be searching for the energy they displayed at Neyland last weekend as the Vols face the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Saturday.