KNOXVILLE – After almost a month of spring camp and four quarters of ones versus twos, one glaring question remains: how much will the fall arrival of graduate transfer Keller Chryst change the dynamic of the battle for starting quarterback?
While new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt was calling for an electric atmosphere at Saturday’s Orange and White game, the wattage might have been slightly under 220 volts.
With Pruitt’s understandable leaning towards the defense, surprisingly enough, the Jarrett Guarantano-led first team offense dominated the first team defense and rolled to a 34-7 win at Neyland Stadium.
Pruitt, who saw good and bad in his first spring game at the helm of a program needing more good news than bad, opened his remarks to the media following the game by saying, “The big thing out there today is you see some guys competing pretty hard. They may not be doing things perfect, but they’re headed in the right direction. That’s something you can build off of. And then I saw a couple of guys out there today just flat out quit. You can call it what you want to; I’m going to say they quit, because that’s what I saw. “
He continued, “Obviously, you look at the stat sheets and one team rushes for 134 yards and one team rushes for 14 yards. Is one team that much better than the other one? I don’t think so. I’ve watched them practice for 14 days. Is one team that much worse than the other one? No. There were some guys that went out there and competed and tried to do the best to their abilities, and we had some guys that that’s not what they did. You can look at it all the way down - total yardage, third down conversions. After 15 days, to me, for some of the guys that’s disappointing, very disappointing. But it probably tells you who they are. It probably is a good indication of who they are.”
Look for changes in personnel over the time before fall camp. As Pruitt puts it, “So, you’re going to put 14 days into it, and some guys are not going to compete. That doesn’t say much for them. Some guys kind of rose to the occasion today, so that’s a good thing. We have to figure out where we’re at with some of these guys. The good thing is that in a couple of weeks, we’ll have a bunch of guys that aren’t on the injury report anymore. We’ll have 14 new guys here and maybe more. So some of these guys that don’t want to do it and don’t want to do it right all the time, they’ll just be watching.”
There were positives for Pruitt, “I think the big thing is I felt a little bit of energy from the one offense. I felt it on the sideline. I didn’t feel it in warm-ups. We didn’t warm up the way we want to warm up. There are lots of things we can take from today. They did respond when we got out on the field. They kind of kept their poise and kept playing. When the defense made mistakes, they took advantage of it. It was good for them.”
While Guarantano, the red shirt sophomore who started six games last season, rolled up 226 yards and two touchdowns on a 15 for 27 day and Will McBride passed for 71 yards on a six for 18 performance, neither was altogether a dominating force in new offensive coordinator Ty Helton’s scheme.
When asked about where the quarterback competition stands following the game, Tennessee’s head coach replied, “You look at one day’s work out there, and that’s not a true indication of how spring actually went. Again, we’ll know who our quarterback is probably when we go to Charlotte. About halfway through the fourth quarter, we’ll have a good idea who our quarterback is at that point when there are guys running open on both sides. When you have a good pocket, you have to step up there and throw the ball and catch the ball. And some of that is throwing it to the right people, but at the same time, I go back to being able to run the football. You rush for 14 yards on one team, you’re going to have a lot of long yardage situations, so everybody knows you’re going to throw it.”
Guarantano threw for two scores, one each to Marquez Callaway and Eli Wolf. McBride had a 35 yard scoring strike to red shirt sophomore receiver Latrell Williams late in the fourth quarter. Both quarterbacks were sacked twice with McBride suffering two interceptions.
Although a refreshing change from the Butch Jones’ era dog and pony shows, the game format failed to generate enough excitement to keep may of the 65,098 fans from exiting at halftime.
Several familiar faces, Jonathan Kongbo, Callaway, Trey Coleman, Quart’e Sapp and Nigel Warrior showed flashes of defensive talent that Vol fans can look forward to when the 2018 season kicks off September 1 against West Virginia in Charlotte, N.C.
Sapp made his presence known with 11 tackles, while Warrior had eight. Micah Abernathy had five and Kyle Phillips four. Kongbo had a tackle for loss and a sack.
Warrior also may have cemented the role of kick returner as he returned five for 128 yards with a long 33. Also in competition for that role, Ty Chandler had two for 58 yards with a long of 28.
One area that Tennessee will need to rely heavily on this season is an amped up receiving corps. Once again it looks as if Callaway will be the go to pass catcher. He pulled down 3 catches for 30 yards and a long of 14, while Josh Palmer and Brandon Johnson each had two receptions for 43 and 34yards, respectively. Again, though, both Guarantano and McBride will need to improve on hitting their targets.
Pruitt had much to say about his quarterbacks finding their receivers. “Well if you’re going to play eight men in the box or an eight-man front, they’ve got one more in there than you’ve got, so you have to be able to complete some balls on the outside. All three of the guys do have length, they have enough speed, and they judge the ball. The quarterback has to do a better job of giving them a chance. How many times do you see a guy throw the ball, and the ball goes out of bounds? Me, as a defensive coordinator, I love that, just a long foul ball. If we’re going to throw it out there, we need to keep it in bounds and give the guys a chance.”
There were several new wrinkles that should hopefully make Tennessee football exciting to watch this coming season, one of which were several new formations including lining up in an I-formation inside the 10-yard line. Those changes , according to Pruitt, likely won’t involve any future position changes,
“I wouldn’t think so. There might be something. You get some of these new guys in here this summer, and you get into fall camp and after about five days in fall camp we might say, ‘Hey to get our best 11 we need to do this. We thought this guy was this but he is actually that.’ I don’t see us changing any guys until then.”
A couple of “razzle-dazzle” type plays, the likes unseen on Rocky Top in several years, also gave notice that it won’t be the drudge and drudgery type game plan as usual for the Vols.
While much work remains prior o hat September 1st kickoff in Charlotte, some will begin sooner rather than later. When queried on his plan to approach those players he referred to earlier as not meeting expectations, Coach Pruitt may be taking a page out of his former boss’ playbook.
“(My plan is To) confront them. There’s nothing any better than peer pressure. It’s easy to stand out there with your chest stuck out and pretend that you’re somebody that you’re not. That’s easy to do, but the film doesn’t lie. When the ball is turned over, and a guy turns it down - we all know what turning it down is; you go hit somebody then you squat your feet, you duck your head, you don’t run through them - that’s turning it down. Guys that do that… the film doesn’t lie. Guys that don’t compete and don’t hustle… the film doesn’t lie."
“We’ll see that. Eventually around here, when we have things the way we want it, I won’t have to police them anymore. They’ll police themselves because they’ll be so invested in the program. They’ve paid the price; they’re not going to let any of their teammates, roommates, or whoever let them down. They’ll confront them. But until then, I’ll be the one that does all the confronting.”
Spring awards were announced at the end of the game and those went to: Harvey Robinson Award for most improved during spring practice, Eli Wolfe; Andy Siva Most Improved Defensive Player, Kyle Phillips; and, Most Valuable Player for the Orange and White game, Jarrett Guarantano.
Coach Pruitt was obviously pleased with both Wolfe and Phillips, “One thing about Kyle (Phillips) is he’s probably playing a position that he hadn’t played much before. Kyle to me has always had great body language. Since we’ve been here, he’s had straight A’s in every academic report. He’s never late. (He) never misses anything. He’s dependable and seems to be all in. And he’s really improved this spring. He has bought in to doing what we want him to do, and he has done his best every day. If we can get everybody to do their best, we’ll be fine. Eli (Wolf) is very competitive. He needs to put on weight, and he’s probably had to play out of position based off of what we asked him to do. But he, again, has gone out there and strained and competed and fought every day, and that’s why he was the most improved.”
To sum up the progress made this spring Coach Pruitt said, “I think that if you looked at it after 15 days, we would get about a D. If you looked at it from a grade standpoint, we would be about a D, which is not their fault. There are lots of things that we are coaching. Not only are we installing an offense and a defense, we are teaching them how to practice and how to compete. We are teaching them how to lift. I could fill up the wall with things that we are trying to teach them here. There are lots of things to learn. I think our guys have learned enough from this spring that they will do a good job this summer when the other guys get in here.”
Over the summer Pruitt and his staff have expectations that begin with academics, “I want us to finish strong academically this semester. I want them to do what’s right from now until we get out of school. Some guys will go home in May, some guys will stay here. We’ll meet with everybody and have our exit reviews this next week and talk to them about where we’re at, our expectations, and what we want them to improve on this summer. It will probably be different for each individual.”
Summing it up, Coach Pruitt likened the day’s experience to his first Vol Walk.
“Well, I thought it was great. I thought the Vol Walk was spectacular. To me, it’s kind of like our football team for the fans. The ones that were here, I’m proud they were here. They’re fired up; they’re ready to get going. There were some people that weren’t here that had legitimate reasons they couldn’t be here. Then there were some people that weren’t here, and why weren’t they here? It was kind of like our football team. I think we all need to look in the mirror and see who we want to be.”
First Downs 5 18
Rushes-Yds 14-14 27-134
Passing Yards 71 226
Comp-Att-Int 6-20-2 15-27-0
Total Yards 34-85 54-360
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Punts-Avg 6-39.5 2-36.0
Penalties-Yds 4-24 3-35
RUSHING – White: Trey Coleman 6-13, Chip Omer 1-9, Princeton Fant 1-1, Will McBride 5- -1; Orange: Tim Jordan 9-57, Ty Chandler 11-53, Jeremiah Howard 3-23, Jarrett Guarantano 3-2.
PASSING – White: McBride 6-18-2-71, Harris 0-2-0-0; Orange: Guarantano 15-27-0-226..
RECEIVING – White: Latrell Williams 2-40, Jordan Murphy 1-18, Richard Mize Jr 1-5, Trey Coleman 1-5, Chip Omer 1-3; Orange: Eli Wolfe 5-63, Josh Palmer 3-77, Marquez Callaway 3-30, Brandon Johnson 2-34, Austin Pope 1-17, Ty Chandler 1-5.
White 0 0 0 7 7
Orange 7 13 7 7 34
7:59 (OR) Marquez Callaway 2 yd pass from Jarrett Guarantano
14:53 (OR) Brent Cimaglia 43 yard FG
06:46 (OR) Tim Jordan 5 yd run (Cimaglia kick)
00:15 (OR) Cimaglia 41 yd FG
03:24 (OR) Ty Chandler 1 yd run (Cimaglia kick)
03:13 (WH) Latrell Williams 35 yd pass from Will McBride (Laszlo Toser kick)
00:10 (OR) Eli Wolfe 29 yd pass from Guarantano (Cimaglia kick)
(Contact Dennis Norwood at sportsshooter614@gmail; follow him on Twitter at @DennisENorwood.)