KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s Deandre Johnson and Brandon Johnson both stood out with their performances in Saturday’s 31-27 football victory at South Carolina. They were two of UT’s better players because they were better prepared than many of their teammates.
In assessing their play, UT coach Jeremy Pruitt noted that the Johnsons didn’t miss any practice reps during preseason camp, which was impacted greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic and its related protocols.
Just three weeks ago, the Vols were missing at least seven players with the virus while more than two dozen other players were unable to practice because of contact tracing.
Deandre Johnson, a senior edge rusher, earned SEC defensive lineman of the week honors for recording 2.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for lost yardage, a forced fumble and a career-high six tackles. The forced fumble helped stall a Gamecocks drive in the second quarter. Two of the sacks came on third down and one occurred at a critical juncture of the fourth quarter.
“He’s been here every day and it shows,” Pruitt said. “He’s practiced well every day. He’s a guy that’s been in our system for three years. He has some maturity about him, and he’s really worked hard this off
Brandon Johnson, who redshirted last fall to give UT another experienced wide receiver this season, caught three passes for 73 yards. The fifth-year senior’s first catch was a spectacular one-handed grab of a deep pass in front of Tennessee’s bench. The 30-yard completion was the Vols’ lone third-down conversion of the game and helped set up their first touchdown.
“He’s been at every practice,” Pruitt said. “He’s a guy that has some experience to him, being a fifth-year guy who has graduated. It doesn’t surprise me. Brandon can play every position and he’s also a good special teams player.”
There was an increase in player availability last week and Pruitt hopes the trend continues into this week in preparation for Saturday’s home opener against Missouri at Neyland Stadium (TV: SEC Network, noon).
“It’s hard to get good chemistry with the team if you don’t practice,” Pruitt said. “… Hopefully we can continue that this week and create some momentum and chemistry.”
On other matters:
-Pruitt wouldn’t say why defensive lineman Darel Middleton and defensive back Shawn Shamburger, two projected starters, didn’t make the trip to South Carolina, other than to say their absence wasn’t disciplinary in nature. “Hopefully, if everything works out, we can get these guys back very soon,” he said.
-Linebacker Jeremy Banks detracted from his play with two 15-yard penalties against South Carolina. The infractions boiled down to bad decisions.
“He’s not going to be a really good player unless he plays penalty-free,” Pruitt said. “You can play aggressively. You can play physically. But you can't do it in between the whistles.”
-Pruitt had an interesting take on the opening win: “We’re 1-0 and the way I look at it, I count all the games that you play as losses, so I say right now we’re 1-9. That’s until you go earn it and win it.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.