KNOXVILLE – Jeremy Pruitt made the rounds on Monday, meeting with the media per his usual routine before donning a sports jacket and making the quick trip down Neyland Drive to speak to the Knoxville Quarterback Club.
The wardrobe change didn’t reflect much difference in the Tennessee football coach’s talking points. No matter the crowd, it was hard to dress up the Vols’ winless start.
“You find out a lot about yourself and who you are in tough times,” Pruitt told the media.
A half-hour or so later, Pruitt stood before a quarterback club turnout that gave him a standing ovation when he entered the room and said: “We didn’t have any intention of being 0-2, but you know what it’s what we are. The fastest way you fix it is you own it.”
Tennessee plays Chattanooga at noon Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
One of Pruitt’s few deviations from his prevailing themes was to reference players leaving the program to the quarterback club. Wide receiver Jordan Murphy and defensive back Terrell Bailey both left last week. Pruitt referred to the scene in the movie “Titanic” where the mice ran toward the top of the sinking ship as a way of saying you find out who really wants to be here.
The analogy was recounted on social media and the reaction was predictable, more predictable anyway than UT’s 0-2 record.
When sticking solely to football and coaching, Pruitt was far less provocative. For both audiences, he stood by quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who’s off to a shaky start with two interceptions and a fumble in two games.
Pruitt repeated himself, almost verbatim, for both audiences in stressing, “there’s no doubt, if you’ve been around our program the last six months, who the best quarterback on our team is.”
“Jarrett will tell you we all, myself included, have to raise our standards and expectations in this program and be a little more consistent,” Pruitt told the media, who asked multiple questions about Guarantano. “That’s everybody. He’s no different than anybody else.”
Pruitt also made a point to tell both audiences that UT hasn’t settled yet on a backup quarterback, indicating the competition is ongoing between redshirt freshman J.T. Shrout and true freshman Brian Maurer.
Maurer ran onto the field last Saturday after Guarantano lost his shoe as he was tackled and BYU defensive lineman Zack Dawe hurled it into UT’s bench.
“He’s not the backup, first of all,” Pruitt said during his press conference. “He was the guy that saw the quarterback came out, so he ran out on the field, which I kind of like. We didn’t tell anybody to go in or come out, but he did run out on the field. I noticed that as I was coming off the field.”
Pruitt looked more at himself in looking back at the circumstances surrounding Brigham Young’s 64-yard pass completion inside the final 20 seconds of regulation. The breakdown enabled the Cougars to kick a game-tying field goal, setting the stage for a gut-wrenching 29-26 loss in double overtime.
“You always go back and look at what you can do better,” he said. “For me, the first thing I’d say is the long pass play. Could I have called a time out before the ball was snapped?”
Immediately after the play, Pruitt chewed out sophomore cornerback Alontae Taylor, who was beaten on the pass. He referenced the play and other execution breakdowns afterward in saying: “there are a couple of errors that we made in the game that you can’t do. Things you just can’t do.”
After reviewing the play for the quarterback club, Pruitt essentially took himself to task.
“I’m not blaming anybody else,” he said. “… I can’t point any fingers at nobody. I’m pointing them at myself.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org