KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Fresh off of its first bye week of the season, Tennessee prepares for its SEC home opener with a sizeable challenge ahead as the Vols welcome the No. 3/3 Georgia Bulldogs to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. (ET), but Vols fans will have a chance to get the day going earlier as SEC Networks’ SEC Nation pays a visit to Rocky Top with pregame coverage provided by Marty Smith, Marcus Spears, Tim Tebow and Paul Finebaum beginning at 10 a.m.
The week off from competition proved to be beneficial at head coach Jeremy Pruitt saw continued improvement across the board.
“We have worked really hard this past week,” Pruitt said at his press conference on Monday afternoon. “We have guys that are becoming more familiar with the positions that they are playing. It is good for us. It is not just our young guys, it is our older guys too.
“There’s a lot to learn about being a good football player,” Pruitt added. “First of all, you’ve got to learn what you need to do to have success, but the other thing, and probably the most important thing is figuring out what the other team is trying to do to you. So, it’s a lot to learn, and these guys have worked hard to do that, and you’ll see guys’ roles increase as the season goes.”
Fortunately, Pruitt and his staff are closely acquainted with the Bulldogs.
Tennessee – Georgia Ties
Several of Tennessee’s coaches have previous ties to Georgia, most notably head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who served as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator from 2014 to 2015. Vols’ offensive coordinator Jim Chaney served as current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart’s offensive play-caller from 2016 to 2018, while inside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Kevin Sherrer (OLBs, 2014-17), defensive line coach Tracy Rocker (DL, 2014-16) and tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer (defensive GA, 2015) were all recently on the Georgia staff.
Georgia assistants Sam Pittman and Charlton Warren previously coached at Tennessee, as well. Pittman coached UT’s offensive line in 2012, while Warren coached the Vols’ defensive backs and was the special teams coordinator in 2017. Tennessee wide receiver Deangelo Gibbs is redshirting this season after transferring from Georgia following two years as a reserve defensive back for the Bulldogs. Former UT tight end Eli Wolf is a graduate transfer for Georgia this season. He started his career as a walk-on for the Vols before earning a scholarship in 2017. He finished with nine receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown during his career on Rocky Top.
With so much familiarity Pruitt believes the outcome will be determined by the minutia.
“We’ve all coached together over the years, so whether its offensively or defensively, we probably know some of the checks that each team’s accustomed to,” Pruitt said. “At the end of the day it comes down to blocking, tackling, executing, and taking care of the football. We’re familiar with them, they’re familiar with us, so it’ll be about the details and tangibles of the plays.”
An Emotional Engine Guides Pruitt
While the wins and losses are ultimately what define a coach’s success, Pruitt’s purpose for getting into coaching was much larger than the results on the ledger.
“One thing about me is that I am an emotional guy,” Pruitt said when asked about his reaction to last season’s hard-fought loss to the Bulldogs. “I got into this business to be a positive influence on our players. It is something that I have always loved doing.”
The Vols scored a pair of second-half touchdowns to come within 12 points of the second-ranked Bulldogs, after going scoreless in the first half. That fight impressed Pruitt.
“It was the first time that I felt like we had competed like you are supposed to,” Pruitt said. “When guys train and compete, it is what you want them to do. We have got to do that this week. To me, they are much improved on where they were last year. They are older and you can see that.”