Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference Full Transcript (Nov. 25)

Opening statement:
“Going back and looking at the game, there were a lot of really good things during the game. I think offensively as the game went, we did a good job of when we did choose to run the football, being able to get some three to six-yard runs there. We had two explosive runs, one got called back on a penalty. I thought our offensive line did a good job in protection. Jarrett did a really nice job keeping us in the right plays and made some good throws. I can’t say enough about our tight ends and wide receivers and how they fought for the ball, going across the middle and making a lot of contested catches.

“Defensively, I really thought our front did a nice job keeping the quarterback in the pocket there and not letting him get out and scramble around. We gave up three explosive plays in the throw game there that we’d like to have back. We didn’t create any turnovers, so (the defense) didn’t help us there. I was really disappointed in the kicking game. I felt like one time there in the kicking game we didn’t have great protection and the ball was a little low. The second time, the ball was definitely low, which is unusual for Brent (Cimaglia), but we have to get that fixed. I didn’t think we punted the football as well as we have in previous games, so we have to go back and figure out a way to fix it. We’ve always been able to kind of create an edge in special teams and for the first time we didn’t do that. But our guys continue to fight. There were lots of times in the game when the momentum shifted but our kids didn’t waver. We found a way to finish it off and got a good win on the road. That was good to see.

“Looking at this next opponent, it’s the last game for the seniors. We’ll be honoring 13 seniors on our football team and also Darrin Kirkland Jr., who didn’t get a chance to run through the T last year. So, he’ll be back, and he’ll do that with the rest of the seniors. It’s a great opportunity for our guys to continue to improve as a football team. We have to have a good week of practice and have to continue to work on the fundamentals and correct some of the mistakes that we made in the game. We’re still searching for playing a correct game, a perfect game. Our guys are working hard to do that. When you look at Vanderbilt, one thing that sticks out to me about them is that they play really hard. They’re a physical team, they take care of the football. Offensively, starting at tailback they have one of the best runners in the league. They have a really good tight end, good wide receivers, guys that have been very productive in this league for a long time. Defensively, they always give you multiple looks. They play extremely hard, they put pressure on the quarterback. They’ve been opportunistic. On special teams, they have good specialists. So, it’ll be a challenge for us, and we need to find a way to be our best on Saturday.”

Credit: UT Athletics

On what allowed him to maintain confidence in Jarrett Guarantano:
“I never lost confidence in him. When you play sports, sometimes you play at a really high level, and sometimes you don’t. For everybody, you’re always trying to figure out how do you be at your best? The talent has always been there, the want to, the toughness, the instincts as a player, the ability to throw the football. But, for whatever reason, early in the year, he wasn’t at his best, and he knows that. There were no signs during fall camp, there were no signs during the spring, and you know what, you’ve got to give Jarrett a ton of credit. Like anybody that plays quarterback, they probably get too much credit when you have success, and too much blame when you don’t. He could have done one of two things when we went in another direction, he could have given up on the season and said, ‘you know what, I’m graduated, I’m going to transfer’, but he didn’t do that, that’s not who he is. He’s a competitor, so he went back to work, he tried to fix what he wasn’t doing as well, and he’ll continue to do that this week. He didn’t play perfect Saturday – he played really, really well, but there were some plays that I’m sure when he watches the film, he’ll say, ‘man, I wish I had that one back.’ That’s with everybody on our football team. I can’t say enough about what kind of grit, determination and character that he has to hang in here and he’s helped us kind of turn this season around.”

On Jarrett receiving death threats and if he was aware of that:
“That was the first I’ve heard about it. Obviously, that’s something that anybody should take very seriously, so, we’re doing whatever we need to do as a university to look into that and protect everybody that’s involved in our program.”

On how he would want players to handle situations like that:
“Obviously, communication. In anything, if something is going on, it starts with communication and letting the proper authorities know about how to handle something.”

On what has been the keys for his team in learning how to win:
“You talk about the Mississippi State game, Kentucky, Missouri this past week. That’s three games where it was probably decided on the last drive, with both groups, offense and defense. All three games there was probably points in the game where we could have played better, but when it mattered the most we played at our best. When you can take the football and run the game out, it says a lot about our offense. Getting stops on defense, I think it shows a lot about the will of this team, the character, the fight and resiliency to find a way. Sometimes when you’re not at your best, if you’re going to win football games you have to will yourself to it, and I think our guys have done that.”

On the one play Brian Maurer came in for:
“Jarrett (Guarantano) was wearing a protective pad on his hand, and it came off. So, he ran off the field and Brian ran on. I didn’t even know what happened until I saw Brian running with the ball.”

On the play of the offensive line:
For the most part, I feel like we blocked the right people. These guys can give you a lot of different looks. Early in the game we were on the right people, but we were kind of getting whipped. As the game went on I felt our guys did a better job maintaining blocks, and we’ve got to do a little bit better job at running back of breaking tackles and falling forward.”

On the importance of potentially getting extra practice time in preparation for post season play: “Obviously, I think football is a developmental game, the more you practice the better you get at it. We’re really just focused on Vanderbilt. We’ll worry about that when it gets here. So, we have got to get out there and have five good days of practice this week and continue to improve as a team, which is something I think we have done for the majority of the year and this is another great opportunity.”

On a status update on Aubrey Solomon and how he thought the group played without him:
“Our guys have continued to improve up front. We’ve played a lot of guys there this year, and we’ll continue to do that. I felt like our guys played together. There were a few things there, whether it was playing six to seven inc, or handling read zone ark, quarterback got out one time for about a 7 or 8-yard gain. Some fundamentals there, but for the most part with a guy that can run around and create issues like their quarterback could, I felt like our guys kept him in the pocket, kind of pushed the pocket and made him throw from the pocket and it helped us have success. (On Aubrey) He’ll be day to day.”

On what he likes about the seniors and quality of guys on the team:
“Our team likes each other which is important. I feel like the guys on our team are very unselfish. They put the team first. It’s easy to be positive and be motivated when things are going really well, and you find out your true character when things aren’t going well. It’s something we had to do this year and it starts with our assistant coaches and our senior leadership and kind of trickled on down. Right now, the mood in the locker room Is really, really good and it’s been like that all year. When you start out 1-4 like we did, the big thing is why? And it really came down to turnovers and execution, and that was something that we could control, and our kids have worked hard to fix it.”

On what Riley Lovingood means to the football program:
“He’s a guy that’s already graduated, working on his second degree. He’s a guy that I saw out here last winter during Christmas break when I came up here to work and he’s out here snapping into the net every single day. It tells you a little bit about his motivation and how important it is. A guy that does a great job in special teams and to lots of folks is under appreciated until you have a bad snap, so he’s been a fantastic leader in this program and done everything that we’ve asked of him.”

On if the message to the team is that they still have work to do, even though they are bowl eligible now:
“We have goals to be at our best every Saturday, and don’t get me wrong, our players are doing a lot of really good things, but we made some mistakes in that game that kept them (Missouri) in it. We had twice as many yards as them, but the game comes down to the last possession. We have to eliminate those mistakes. Whether they are careless penalties, a mental error on offense or defense, it is a fumble when you are putting the game away, a blocked field goal or not fielding a kickoff. Those things we gave the other team too many chances. We have to eliminate those mistakes.”

On what the senior class means to him:
“It is something that I am really proud of for these guys. I am really proud of these guys and excited for them. It has been great to get to know them. I knew Nigel Warrior from the recruiting process. I didn’t know Daniel Bituli. I didn’t know Darrell Taylor. I had met Dominick Wood-Anderson a little bit from recruiting. Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, I knew Marquez a little bit from the recruiting. But just being around them the last two years to really get to know who they are and how much pride that they have for the University of Tennessee and see them fight and finish something that they started just says a lot about them. These guys are going to have tons of success beyond the university. It is really just what college football is all about, how these guys represent the university.”

On what he is thankful for:
“Number one, I am thankful for my family. My wife, my kids, my mom, my dad, my brothers and sisters. I think we all are. I am thankful for having an opportunity to work for the University of Tennessee. I am thankful for these players that we have a chance to be around every day and what a blessing they are to us. I am thankful for the men that I work with. There are lots of things to be thankful for. This is probably my favorite holiday just because of that. I think we get caught up sometimes in the wins and losses. I realize that is what we get paid to do, but the opportunity to work with the men in this profession, to be around the student-athletes and everybody that touches the student-athletes and watch them grow over a period of time, it is why I wanted to get into coaching football, so I could be a part of something like this. So, I am thankful to have an opportunity to do it at a wonderful university that football is so important to.”

 

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