Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference Transcript – Oct. 8, 2018

Credit: UT Athletics

Opening Statement:
“We had a really good off week last week. We had an good opportunity to get back to a lot of fundamentals which was good for a lot of our guys. I was thinking about it over the weekend, I think there’s probably ten guys that have started for us at some point in time this season that weren’t here during the spring and there’s probably another 8 to 10 guys that play a lot that weren’t here. It was good to go back and get some fundamental work and go back to some foundations on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game.

“Unfortunately, we did lose a player for a few weeks. Trevon Flowers dove to intercept the ball the other day and broke his collar bone, but he’s had surgery and he’ll be back in a few weeks. It’s unfortunate for him because he really had improved in the last two or three weeks and had a great off week this past week, so we’ll be without him moving forward.

“We’ve got a tremendous challenge this week going to Auburn. Auburn is a very difficult place to play, and they’ve got a very good football team, very good on defense. I think they’re one of the top defense teams in the country. They’re really big up front, have a really good front seven, play man-to-man in the back end a whole lot, can do that, deny the ball, lots of pressure on the quarterback, and they can do it with just their front four. Offensively, Gus [Malzahn] has always done a really good job running the football, making you play from sideline to sideline, creating explosive plays and the run and pass game giving you a bunch of different looks. They play really fast, have an experienced quarterback, have good wide receivers, Chandler Cox seems like he’s been playing forever, and have a couple running backs that are big and physical. It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us. And their kicking game, they’ve got good specialists. I think they returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown. They’ve blocked three kicks this year. They’ve got a lot of runners and strikers on their special teams and they’ve got good guys returning it in the back end. It will definitely be a huge challenge for us, but our guys are looking forward to it. I know I’m excited to get back out on the field and get a chance to prepare for somebody. Just trying to talk to our guys, they don’t have any history of playing Auburn and I think especially on the defensive side, there’s a lot of awareness that you need. We’ve got to do a good job of getting these guys prepared for this week.”

On if Todd Kelly Jr. will be factored into game plan now that Trevon Flowers is out:
“Todd is continuing to work to get back. He played a little bit on special teams last week. He did get a chance to participate in the off week, so he’s taking baby steps which is a credit to him because he had a severe injury and had to work hard to come back from it. It would’ve been easy for him to say, ‘I’m just going to move on, I’m going to be done with football’, but he’s came back and he’s worked extremely hard and he’s getting a little bit better each week.”

On any noticeable differences between Auburn film this year vs. last year:
“They had to replace some guys up front. If you look last week in the ball game, there’s a touchdown that they’re this far away from it being a touchdown, had several opportunities. I’ve played against this guy before. This guy’s got great arm talent. He has understanding of what he does, what they want him to do offensively. He’s got good guys around him. He can make all the throws. He can hurt you with his feet. I think he’s a tremendous quarterback and it definitely will be a huge challenge for us.”

On if there is anything he can do to help the offensive line:
“If you look at what we’re trying to do, we’ve got a lot of new guys, some of them are playing new positions. They’re playing together. Five weeks now, they’ve been together, so you can leave tight tends in to protect. You can try to check in the run game to make sure that you’re running to the right looks. To me, the big thing is that you’ve got to get the guys to play hard. You’ve got to get them to know what to do. You’ve got to get them to play with the right technique, the right body angles and learn to finish and you just have to do what they know. Don’t ask them to do things they can’t do.”

On Jarrett Guarantano’s performance and what he’s liked and seen the most improvement on:
“Jarett is just like everybody else on our football team. He’s had bright spots just like a lot of guys. I think we’re looking for consistency with all of our players. If you look at this past weekend, the teams that had success—I’m sitting there flipping the channels, just watching different teams play—folks that have experience and can do it over and over again the right way seem to have success. That’s what we’re looking for with all of our players.”

On his thoughts about playing a nine-game SEC schedule:
“I have a lot more things that I need to be working on than trying to figure out how the SEC should schedule. I am just going to try and work on the things that I can control, which are here at Tennessee.”

On areas the team improved during the bye week:
“We worked really hard on tackling. We worked really hard on the fundamentals of blocking and block protection. We went back to the ‘A, B, C’s’ that you do during spring ball and fall camp, which we need. We had a lot of guys who didn’t get to do that during camp. We have guys that are inexperienced, and we have guys that have experience but maybe aren’t doing it at the highest level. It’s good for everybody. It’s good competition. The only way I know how to get better at something is to go do it, and that is what we did this past week.”

On defending Auburn’s offense:
“You need to keep your edges. These guys do a really good job of running the football. They create a lot of explosive plays out on the perimeter, so you have to have good edges to make them block you to begin with. I think you have to eliminate explosive plays in the pass game. You need to get them in third-and-long yardage. If you don’t, their run-pass options are really tough to defend. Last year, converting third downs was probably the difference in the ball game when I coached against them. We have to get off the field on third down. You need to hold them to field goals in the red area. You have to find ways to get some turnovers. All the things I just said probably (apply to) every week. Against these guys, it’s going to be important.”

On Baylen Buchanan playing the Nickel and Star positions:
“We are trying to find ways to get our best players on the field. Baylen is a guy that can play corner and play inside ability wise. He has played a little bit of Money on third downs. He is a guy that gets it from a mental standpoint. He has a good understanding. He needs to improve his tackling. He has to be a better blitzer and be more physical. If you are going to play there, there will be a lot more action. He is plenty capable of doing it, but he will have to raise his level of play if we are going to keep him in there.”

On needing the defensive line getting pressure against Auburn on third downs:
“Gus [Malzahn] has always given you multiple personnels, but they do a great job of making you play from sideline to sideline. They play really fast on offense. They are very multiple. You have to recognize formations and where guys are at. To me, his teams have always gotten better as the season has gone along. Most of the time, we have coached against him at the very end. They are really dangerous when they get going. To me, they have been right there at it every game. You can watch all the games. There is always just a play or two there that they have just barely missed on to get them going. We have to do a good job of slowing them down on first down. We have to keep our edges and tackle better. They have big strong running backs and players. Their rocket sweep guys are tough to get on the ground. We have to keep them cut off in the back end to make them earn it.”

On the depth of the secondary right now:
“Trevon [Flowers] played pretty much the whole part of the last half of the Georgia game. He made a nice pick when we jumped offsides. He had really improved in the last several weeks. We have guys who have played multiple positions, so it will probably be the same guys who were playing before Trevon started playing. We will see how it goes this week.”

On how his expectations of the team have changed since Week 1:
“If you look on both sides of the ball and on the kicking game, there have been some bright spots through the first five weeks. There have also been lots of inconsistencies. I really couldn’t say one spot is further along than I thought it would be or one spot is further behind. If you look at the whole part, our entire team needs to improve on execution and being consistent in everything we do.”

On respecting Gus Malzahn more since he also started in the high school coaching ranks:
“I have several good friends on Auburn’s staff. They are guys that I have worked with before or went to school with. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he has done and the people on his staff. They have one of the best coaching staffs in the country. They do a fantastic job. Every year that we have played them, it’s always been a battle. Hopefully, it will be the same way this year.”

On rotating guys at the inside linebacker position:
“I think we have four guys that can execute what we’re trying to get done. I think all four of them will tell you that they’ve not played their best game yet. They’re working hard to improve. We’ve got good competition. That’s important. I’ve said it lots of times. One of my favorite rooms is that running back room. Well, we have competition in there every single day. It makes those guys better and we need that on all areas of our football team.”

On the Mississippi State’s success running the ball against Auburn:
“They were wiling to run their quarterback, I think 25 times in the game. I don’t know how many times he ran it, but every time I flipped on the channel he was running with the ball. It was basically Wildcat. That’s a tough offense to defend because you’ve got a quarterback who can run the football but also throw it at the same time. It’s tough to defend. It’s tough in this league to do that. Sometimes you kind of get a game like that last week and the quarterback runs it that many times, it makes it tough to stop. I can tell you this, that quarterback’s really sore today and this league you do that over and over and over again, you better have another one.”

On the challenges of an 11 a.m. local kickoff:
“I like 11 a.m. kickoffs, especially on the road. We’ll be home by 7:30 that night. Sitting around all day as opposed to a 7 o’clock, I like 11 o’clock myself.”

On Auburn’s front four on defense:
“You’re talking about the front four? They’ve got Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, 95 (Dontavius Russell)—I’m sorry, I forgot his name. I know he’s 95, makes a bunch of plays and he’s been playing there for about 10 years—you know, Nick Coe. They’ve got guys—They rotate guys in and out. They’re deep up front and they have really good linebackers too. Those linebackers—I know a lot of these guys just because of recruiting and things like that—really good competitors. The guys play it the right way and I can guarantee you they’ll be ready to play this week.”

On Tracy Rocker and Charles Kelly having played at Auburn:
“I’m sure Rock and Charles have a lot of pride in the school that they went to. I’ve actually coached with both of them against Auburn. I think they pull for Auburn every day except the day that they play us. I know that they have a lot of pride in their school and you hear them talk about it a lot. You hear them talk about the people they played for, they played with. I know they’re excited to go back and play. I’m sure there will be a lot of folks there that they know.”

On where Trey Smith is right now:
“Somebody asked me about JJ Peterson the other day, where he was at. You think about him and Trey, JJ’s been here, I guess this is the fifth week so that would probably for a normal freshman be like July, the second week in July. And then you talk about Trey. Trey was here but he didn’t get to participate so he started basically two weeks before JJ. Trey’s played one year of football. I said it when he came back, we shouldn’t put unrealistic expectations on him and I think this off week was good for him. He needs to gain confidence. I think if you look back last year he played a lot of different spots on the offensive line. We’ve kind of put him at one spot to leave him there, let him get good at, gain confidence. I think he will do that over the rest of the season. I think if you talk to Trey, he’ll be another guy to tell you that he’s not played his best game yet, but he’s working hard to do that.”


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