Dan Fleser: Pruitt Sees Negatives Despite Vols Lopsided Win Over UAB

Thursday, November 7, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

KNOXVILLE – Jeremy Pruitt began the week with the sounds of saltiness.

The Tennessee football coach’s opening comments during his weekly press conference centered on too many negative plays and too much pressure on the Vols quarterbacks. He went five sentences deep before any mention of anything positive. And he was reviewing a 23-point victory over a heretofore one-loss UAB team last Saturday.

How encouraging.

A sure sign of progress is grousing about victories and the Vols (4-5, 2-3 SEC) certainly are making headway with three victories in their last four games before Saturday’s game at Kentucky (TV: SEC Network, 7:30 p.m.).

A natural reaction to such a turnaround is to review what’s happened and search for a Road to Damascus moment. Was there the football equivalent of a bright light and a conversion of biblical proportions?

Such a thought for sure would’ve incurred the wrath of Pruitt on Monday, or any day for that matter.

His take on Tennessee’s about face from a 1-4 start began with elementary school mathematics.

“We turned the football over,” he said. “We didn’t get enough turnovers. We didn’t play clean.”

The statistics support his contention. Tennessee was minus-six in turnovers during the first four losses and a plus-five in the victory over Chattanooga. Conversely the Vols are a plus-four overall in the past four games, highlighted by a plus-three margin last Saturday.

The math concept also applies to Tennessee’s lineup. For example, linebacker Daniel Bituli missed the first two games because of a knee injury while defensive back Bryce Thompson missed the first three because of disciplinary action.

Initially, Bituli’s return assuaged UT’s alignment issues on defense. He’s since progressed to the point of having a 15-tackle effort against South Carolina that included a blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown. The performance earned him SEC co-defensive player of the week honors.

Thompson took the SEC honor exclusively this week after a tying a school single-game record with three interceptions against UAB.

The return of impactful players like this is bound to result in progress.

The math theory has its limitations, however, when balancing the personnel additions with some subtractions. While Thompson has returned to the secondary fellow defensive back Trevon Flowers was lost for the season due to a fractured leg against Mississippi State on Oct. 12.

Furthermore, the offensive line, which struggled some against UAB, hasn’t had the same five-player starting alignment since the Florida game primarily because of injury.

Another explanation for UT’s progress is more collective in nature, rather than accounting for individuals and their acts. It’s centered around the daily work invested toward improvement.

 On Tuesday, defensive lineman Matthew Butler echoed his coach in referencing his position group’s ongoing attention to details and striving to play clean football.

On the other side of the line, freshman offensive tackle Wanya Morris had an especially rough night on Saturday. His response, fellow lineman Trey Smith said, was to watch film with Smith, critique his play and apologize to his teammates.

“Wanya’s identifying his issues and we’re going in the film room together just so we can be more cohesive on the left side of the offensive line,” Smith said.

After a loss at Florida dropped Tennessee to 1-4, yours truly wondered in this column space whether the team’s execution breakdowns suggested a degree of disconnect between what Pruitt and his staff was teaching and the team’s play. I also wondered whether experience and maturity eventually might bridge the gap.

I’m not wondering as much anymore. 

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.



SEC Basketball Standings, Results, Upcoming Schedule

SOCON Basketball Standings, Results, Upcoming Schedule

Lee Tennis Teams Earn Gulf South Wins

Southeastern Conference Basketball Standings as of games of: February 17, 2020 SCHOOL CONFERENCE OVERALL MEN: ... (click for more)

Southern Conference Basketball Standings a s of games of: February 15, 2020 SCHOOL CONFERENCE OVERALL MEN: ... (click for more)

The Lee men's tennis team opened Gulf South Conference play with a 7-0 shutout over visiting Christian Brothers University on Sunday from the DeVos Tennis Center. "There's no easy wins in ... (click for more)


SEC Basketball Standings, Results, Upcoming Schedule

Southeastern Conference Basketball Standings as of games of: February 17, 2020 SCHOOL CONFERENCE OVERALL MEN: Kentucky 10-2 20-5 Auburn 9-2 22-2 LSU 9-3 18-7 South Carolina 8-4 ... (click for more)

SOCON Basketball Standings, Results, Upcoming Schedule

Southern Conference Basketball Standings a s of games of: February 15, 2020 SCHOOL CONFERENCE OVERALL MEN: ETSU 12-2 23-4 Furman 12-2 22-5 UNCG 11-3 21-6 Western Carolina 8-6 16-9 ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Chattanooga Man, 31, Killed In Head-On Crash Near Elizabethton; His Vehicle Was Struck By Man Fleeing Police

A Chattanooga man who was hit head-on by a vehicle being chased by police near Elizabethton, Tn., was killed in the crash late Sunday morning. He was identified as Thomas Taylor, 31. He was driving a BMW north on U.S. Highway 19E when his vehicle was struck by a Lincoln Towncar going the wrong way at a high rate of speed. Two other people were injured in the collision at Gap ... (click for more)

Fishermen Spot Body In Ocoee River

Two fishermen spotted a body in the Ocoee River on Sunday. Polk County Sheriff's deputies were then able to retrieve a man's body around noon. It was located about 100 yards west of Big River Access. The body was sent to Knoxville for an autopsy and to seek identification. (click for more)


Celebrate President's Day By Remembering The Wisdom Of Our Founding Fathers - And Response

Monday, Feb. 17, is President’s Day. The holiday was originally designed to honor our first president, George Washington, and was celebrated on his birthday, Feb. 12. In an effort to give the public more leisure time, in 1971, President Richard Nixon officially designated certain federal holidays to be celebrated on Mondays. This included President Washington’s. Since it no longer ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Believe In Harbingers?

A harbinger, we have been taught, is “something that foreshadows a future event,” or “something that gives an anticipatory sign of what is to come.” Last week in Connecticut, the families of three high school athletes – all female – filed a lawsuit against the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The lawsuit claims a current CIAC policy is a violation of the federal ... (click for more)