KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – What Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said following the upset 38-30 loss to Georgia State and what must happen to the Tennessee team going forward.
“The best team out there won the game today. The team that played the best, executed the best, outcoached us. It starts with that. Georgia State’s staff did a great job on both sides of the ball. They created different looks on defense, confused us a little bit. We turned the ball over, held the ball some when we didn’t have to. On the defensive side, they kept putting a tight end inside and basically created an extra gap there. We had seen them do it in the past, we just didn’t get it executed before they gave us a chance. When the ball was hidden, they had an extra guy. It took us a long time to get that fixed. If you look at our team, too many times we had unforced errors, especially defensively on third down, just not lining up correctly. Again, that all goes back to us. We knew going in, especially defensively, we have a very inexperienced football team and we kept it simple, but we obviously didn’t have the guys ready to play in that package on third down. We let Georgia State convert some third downs. Look at us offensively, we started the game with a tipped-ball, turnover. Immediately we have a couple of mental errors there on defense and then they got in with a tight end there and their core created an extra gap and walked in. That was an opportunity for us to keep them out of the endzone there. We had a third-and-one, later in the game, we didn’t convert there. I might be wrong but I think we punted one time during the game. We didn’t put the ball in the endzone to finish the half with the ball right there. We had three shots in the endzone for a chance to create a touchdown, but didn’t do that. Defensively, it would be hard for me to point out anything that we really did well. I think there were a couple of guys that probably played hard game in the game, but there’s more to being a good defensive player than just playing hard. We’ve got to teach the guys how to play the plays, how to get lined up and be able to execute. I thought one positive in the game was our special teams. We got a little bit going there in the return game. Our kickers kicked the ball well.”
On how important it was for Georgia State to score coming out of halftime:
“Lots of times in games the most important drive is the drive right after half. That was very disappointing because they continued to do the things that they did in the first half. We felt like we had a good plan moving out of the second half. A couple of dudes got away from us there. We didn’t take a guy on the three-through one time and we were a little late to the tight end in the flat. We have to be able to execute at a high level. We weren’t far away a lot of times. ‘Hey, we know we’ve got this guy man-to-man’, but maybe the alignment was not exactly right. That goes back to be. We have to go back and make sure that our guys have an understanding. When you look at it, I’ve seen this before. When you get in games, when you’ve got some young guys, there’s some inexperienced guys. You have anxiety and you forget the details of what you’ve learned. That’s who we’ve got. We’ve got some young guys and they have talent. We have to coach them up and get them to play at a high level. Again, we have to give Georgia State credit. There were lots of times when how we lined, based on the schematic scheme that they did, we didn’t have a chance. The first thing we have to do is get lined up.”
On how the line of scrimmage played:
“You can look at the yards rushing. Georgia State rushed for 213 and Tennessee rushed for 93. I think that tells the tale. I’m not sure that, based off how the defensive played, did we give our offensive line a chance to dominate the game, because there was a point in time that our offense got the ball we were down a little bit further. I don’t know if that’s right when it comes to running the football, offensively. That usually dictates who wins or loses the game.
On how the team played as a whole:
“I don’t think we played our best ball. I think Georgia State had a lot to do with that. It’s always about how hard you play. But if you’re playing really hard and you’re running in the wrong direction, that’s not good. If you’re playing really hard and you’re not blocking the right guy, or if you’re supposed to run this route, but you see it a different way and run another one, it’s hard to have success. And we probably had too much of that. Again, I’m not blaming the kids. Like I told the players in the locker room, everybody needs to look in the mirror, because it’s what I’m going to do and say, ‘What can I do better for our football team?’ And I’m going to start with me.”
On if he believes his team wasn’t ready to play:
“I believe we were ready to play, we just have to execute. You throw the ball out there on the bubble, and we don’t get a clean catch; we juggle it and they get a short field. We had an opportunity to hold them to a field goal, and we didn’t. They punched it in. We get a third-and-one, we don’t get a first down. We end the half with the ball on the three yard-line. There are hidden points out there. You look at it defensively – on their second touchdown drive of the first half, we had two defensive ends on the same half of the field just not lined up correctly. The guy scrambles out for a first down. We knew the guy could run. We’ve played against running quarterbacks in the past. We have plans for that. But for whatever reason, we didn’t execute at a high level. Third down (not) getting off the field killed us today. We have to be able to get off the field. We can’t give any team extra chances, and we have to be able to execute at our best all the time.”
On at what point he realized that Tennessee may not win the game:
“That’s the thing that’s great about all sports, especially football. They don’t ask you how many stars you have when you go out there for the coin toss. They don’t get your 40 time. They don’t get your vertical jump. It’s about going and executing the fundamentals. I told our team: blocking, tackling and execution. They did all of that today. And throw in coaching too. They did everything better than we did. I’m not saying their team is better than ours; I’m saying that today, their team was. And that’s all that counts.”
On rotating the offensive line around:
“I’ll have to watch the tape and our coaches will have to watch the tape. Obviously, if you have somebody that’s playing a lot better than somebody else, you don’t want to play the other one. We played several guys today because we felt like they all played about the same in camp. So we wanted to give them an opportunity and see where it goes, see who’s playing the best as the game goes. We’ll watch the tape and figure that out. We need competition on our team. It makes you better. And there are certain positions where we have none. We have zero. We have to recruit and get some guys back to give us an opportunity there. The only way you can improve is that you have to practice with an edge, play with an edge and coach with an edge all the time. If you’re not doing that then you’re not getting better.”
On what the message was to the players after the game:
“You give Georgia State credit. They did things on both sides on the ball that maybe we weren’t prepared for, or maybe we thought we were prepared for. We didn’t execute like we needed to. The other thing is, you have to go back and look in the mirror. What can I do better? That is what you have to do because everybody wants to blame somebody else. It is like what I told them, last year at this time, we lost to West Virginia. I asked them, ‘Do you get extra scholarship money because we lose to West Virginia and Georgia State?’ Georgia State has scholarship guys just like us.
“My hat is off to them (Georgia State). They have done a really nice job. We have to go back and go to work and improve because next Saturday night there will be a team coming in that is probably going to be better than them (Georgia State). It will keep happening that way.
“The team that makes the fewest mistakes will probably win the game next Saturday night just like they will win in week six, week eight and week 12. That’s what happens. We have to be that team that doesn’t beat ourselves. We have to quit beating oursleves before we beat somebody else.”
On if the team prepared enough for the option play during practice:
“We have done option drills every day, No. 1 for our offense and for us. To me, the zone read didn’t hurt us as much as the insert. Hat plays is what I would call it. Just creating an extra gap there and fitting it up right. It is always an emphasis because it is what the college game has become. Everybody has running quarterbacks and everybody does a little bit of it, whether the guy is running or not, so you have to be prepared for it.”
On what the issues were on the defensive lineman:
“I think a lot of it is formation recognition. These guys mix it up with their guards and tackles. Moving the Y (receiver position), is he going to stick to a different position or get right in between the center and guard? Where exactly is fit on error?
“Daniel Bituli is a guy that has been our signal caller before, and the more you do it, the more experienced you get. Our guys that we had out there today are good signal callers, and they are going to be really good football players. I don’t really know how they played today, but I saw a lot of them make a lot of tackles.”
On how concerning it is moving forward that the defensive plan wasn’t executed and what he plans on doing in the future:
“That is the thing as coaches. You feel like if you don’t have success, you have to fix it with a call. I totally disagree with that. I think you have to fix it with fundamentals. I would rather run one call and get it right. I told our coaching staff today that there was one year I was a defensive coordinator and we probably had one of the best defenses in the history of college football. We played one game and we called the same call every single snap. So those guys were capable of calling everything, but why did we do that if we couldn’t play the right way and call one thing?
“There is defensive football… If you look over the last 100 years, you can think of a lot of great defenses and people that have played great defense a bunch of different ways. To me, it is the temperament you play with, the execution you play with and how you play together.
“We have a lot of youth. I am sure there was a lot of anxiety and inexperience there. We have to keep coaching them and pushing them. We have good players in there. We have good people. They are going to respond the right way. Are we all disappointed today? Sure, we are. But the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and we are going to play BYU starting tomorrow. We have to bring our best game next Saturday.”
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