By Jimmy Hyams
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is not afraid to gamble with on-side kicks.
He’s not afraid to roll the dice on fourth down.
And he’s not scared to call a trick play or two.
But when it comes to the end of the first half, he’s displayed a conservative tendency.
Late in the first half against South Carolina, with the Vols nursing a 14-9 lead, Tennessee got a first down at its 37-yard line with about 30 seconds left and two timeouts.
Rather than take a few shots downfield to get in field-goal range, Pruitt ran out the clock.
He later explained that UT would get the ball in the second half, so he wanted to ensure a halftime lead.
“We accomplished what we wanted,’’ Pruitt said, after the Vols took the second-half kickoff and marched downfield for a touchdown to take a 21-9 lead.
True. But many offensive minded teams would have surely been more aggressive late in the second quarter. I can’t imagine Nick Saban sitting on a five-point lead with Tua Togaviloa. Or Matt Luke at Ole Miss with Jordan Ta’amu. Or Oklahoma with Kyler Murray. Or Washington State with Gardner Minshew.
Perhaps the decision is as much about confidence in your quarterback or your offense or your offensive line as it is about getting the second-half kickoff.
It will be interesting to see if Pruitt remains close to the vest late in the first half if he DOESN’T get the second half kickoff in the remaining games.
Meanwhile, we stumbled a bit with our SEC picks last week. But I shouldn’t feel took bad. In the 50 or so games in which Vegas set a line for FBS teams last week, 19 underdogs were outright winners, three double-digit dogs, one by 24 points.
Last week: 3-2
Best bets: 2-0 with a caveat. If you could get more than 3, take A&M. I never saw the line at more than three. So we got Tennessee and Kentucky taking the points.
Recap: We were close on the UT-South Carolina score, taking the Gamecocks 24-23 … Our biggest surprise was Mississippi State pulling away to beat Texas A&M … Georgia and Vanderbilt had easier wins than we anticipated … Missouri blew a home game against Kentucky, not getting a single first down on eight second-half possessions.
I find it ironic that Derek Dooley has now been a part of losing three games after the clock struck 0:00. As UT’s head coach, he lost at LSU and in the Music City Bowl to North Carolina, then as Missouri’s offensive coordinator to Kentucky on a last-play untimed down.
This week’s picks:
Alabama 34-17 over LSU. Tigers hang tough but Tide has too many weapons. Tua plays in the fourth quarter and throws his first interception of the season.
Tennessee 30-13 over Charlotte. Don’t expect a big blowout, especially if some of UTs key playmakeres – like Ty Chandler and Jauan Jennings – don’t play.
Florida 24-17 over Missouri. Gators get revenge from last year’s blowout and Tigers’ quarterback Drew Lock continues his struggles in SEC games.
Georgia 24-20 over Kentucky. Jake Fromm was the difference against Florida last week and he’ll be the difference today against the Wildcats.
Mississippi State 30-20 over Louisiana Tech. State QB Nick Fitzgerald has a big day rushing and throwing.
South Carolina 30-27 over Ole Miss. Gamecock coach Will Muschamp finds a way to win close games.
Auburn 27-23 over Texas A&M. One of the hardest SEC games to pick, the fact Aggies are on the road for a third straight game proves tough to overcome.
Kentucky getting 8 ½ against Georgia.
Florida giving 6 to Missouri.
Louisiana Tech getting 23 ½ from Mississippi State
Alabama giving 14 to LSU