By Jimmy Hyams
Would Jeremy Pruitt have landed the Tennessee job if not for Kevin Steele?
Steele, Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2007, convinced Tide coach Nick Saban to hire Pruitt as a director of player development on the staff. Pruitt was coaching at Hoover High School in Birmingham, Steele’s recruiting territory.
Pruitt gives Steele a lot of credit for getting him into college coaching and helping him learn Saban’s scheme.
What’s intriguing, Steele and Pruitt were two of the three finalists when Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer was in the process of replacing Butch Jones as the Vols’ coach. Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was the other.
“Kevin was very patient with me as a young coach, and very instrumental in helping me kind of get going a little bit in my career,’’ Pruitt said. “I’m very thankful for that opportunity and he’s a good friend of mine.’’
Steele is in his third season as Auburn’s defensive coordinator.
Pruitt said Steele does a “fantastic job’’ in disguising his defense, pressuring the QB and creating negative plays.
Here some notes about the upcoming matchup between Tennessee and Auburn:
- Pruitt said 10 guys have started who did not go through spring practice and 8-10 more have played that didn’t go through the spring.
- Pruitt said Auburn is a difficult place to play and that the Tigers have a “really good’’ front seven and front four. Auburn allows 135.5 rushing yards per game but that number is misleading considering Mississippi State ran for 349.
- Pruitt said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has always done a good job running the ball and that Auburn plays fast, has an experienced QB and good wide receivers. But Auburn has gone three straight games without reaching 100 rushing yards and the school’s nine-year streak of producing a 1000-yard rusher is in jeopardy.
- Pruitt said senior safety Todd Kelly Jr., who played some snaps on special teams against Georgia, is “taking baby steps’’ from “severe (knee) injury’’ and it’s a credit to Kelly that he is still playing because he could have easily quit.
- Pruitt said Auburn QB Jerrett Stidham has “great arm talent’’ and can “make all the throws’’ and can beat you with his legs. But Stidham was better last year when he completed 66.5% of his passes for 3158 yards and 18 touchdowns with just six interceptions. This year he has completed 60% of his throws for 1177 yards and just five touchdowns in six games.
- Pruitt said QB Jarrett Guarantano has “had some bright spots’’ but “needs consistency’’ like many other players. Guarantano has completed 63.4% of his passes but has just four TDs. He has completed 70% of his passes inside the numbers on the field and 78% on play-action passes.
- Pruitt said he has a “tremendous amount of respect’’ for Auburn’s coaching staff and that they do a “fantastic job.’’ Pruitt coached at Alabama with Steele. Also, two UT assistants played at Auburn: Tracy Rocker, Charles Kelly.
- As Florida State’s defensive coordinator, Pruitt coached against Auburn in the 2013 national title game and Seminoles rallied from 21-3 halftime deficit to win the crown 34-31. Kelly was an FSU assistant at the time. Pruitt is 6-2 as an assistant against Auburn.
- Mississippi State beat Auburn 23-9 as State QB Nick Fitzgerald ran 28 times for 195 yards. Pruitt: “They were willing to run the quarterback … basically in the wildcat. It’s a tough offense to defend because the quarterback and run and throw.’’
- Pruitt said of Fitzgerald: “I tell you this, that quarterback is sore.’’ Pruitt said if you run a QB “over and over’’ in the SEC “you better have another one.’’ In other words, that QB will get hurt.
- UT-Auburn kickoff at 11 am CT. Pruitt likes the early kickoffs so you don’t have to wait around and you get back to Knoxville by 7:30 pm.
- Pruitt said LT Trey Smith had a good off week and hasn’t played his “best game yet’’ but folks shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations considering his situation. Smith said playing left tackle is harder than right guard because he’d prefer to block the “fat guys’’ at defensive tackle, rather than agile defensive ends.
- Pruitt is impressed with Auburn’s defense: “Auburn doesn’t have a good defense, they have a great defense. … I think one of the best defenses in the country.’’
- UT has improved its run defense from 250 yards per game last year to 158 through five games. Pruitt said the run defense is “headed in the right direction’’ but not where it needs to be because “too many times the pile moves the wrong way.’’
- While Auburn has gone 3 games in a row without rushing for 100 yards, Pruitt said Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey “know how to run the football’’ and Auburn is usually “as good as any team in the country’’ running the ball.
- Pruitt has coached many games against Malzahn and said the Auburn coach “finds new wrinkles and ways to be productive offensively.’’
- Auburn played 42 minutes on defense against Miss State which might be one reason the Tigers didn’t have a good tackling day as the Bulldogs rushed for 349 yards.
- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Auburn needs to be better in run game and were close against Miss State but didn’t run much because didn’t have many snaps due to inability to convert third downs (3×14) and defense didn’t do good job stopping State on third-down (7×17).
- Malzahn said Pruitt mixes up defenses and makes more defensive changes from the sideline than most coaches. Malzahn also said UT plays hard for its next coach.
- Malzahn again said he would prefer 9-game SEC schedule to better balance strength of schedule, which he feels overrides some years have 4 or 5 home games. He said SEC schedules aren’t `balanced the way they could be or should be.’
- Auburn is sixth nationally in scoring defense (14.3 points per game) and ninth in pass defensive efficiency and 10th in third-down defensive stops.
- Stidham has completed 114 passes to Ryan Davis, the second most prolific combination in Auburn history. Pat Sullivan connected with Terry Beasley 140 times.
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