KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — Tennessee notched a significant 41-21 win against South Carolina on Saturday, but with the start of a new week the Vols are not resting easy and have shifted their focus to a one-loss UAB team.
UT will face another stout defense on Saturday for its Homecoming game, which is slated to kick off at 7 p.m. (ET). The Blazers’ rank fifth nationally in total defense (248.6 ypg) and have not given up more than 20 points in a game this season.
“If you look at them they have one of the best defenses in the country, statistically,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said at his Monday press conference. “Putting pressure on the quarterback; I think there have been 26 sacks. They are not allowing a whole lot of points. (They put on) a lot of pressure and are just really sound and really a hard-nosed football team.
“Offensively, the guys take care of the football and create explosive plays and have really, really good wide receivers as a group. They look like SEC wide receivers and are probably just as good as any group we have seen.”
The challenge will be great for the Orange and White as it concludes the nonconference slate for the year and its penultimate home game. The Vols will be on the road the for two games at Kentucky (Nov. 9) and Missouri (Nov. 23), before closing the regular season at Neyland Stadium against Vanderbilt (Nov. 30).
But before UT sets its sights back on the SEC, the focus is on a Blazers team that comes into the matchup with three consecutive wins.
“As much time and effort you put in to something that you love to do, it would be shame on us to not be ready to play on Saturday against a really good football team and a great opportunity for us to continue to improve as a football team,” Pruitt said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We have to continue to work hard, learn how to sustain and do it for multiple weeks at a time.”
While the Vols and Blazers have not faced off since 2010 and UT remains undefeated in the short series (4-0), Pruitt is familiar with the current staff. Pruitt played against UAB’s head coach Bill Clark, while Pruitt was a player at Plainview High School led by his father, Dale, and Clark coached at Piedmont High School, a local rival.
As coaches, the pair faced off at the scholastic level while Clark was the head coach at Prattville High School (1999-2007) and competed as the top team in the 6A class with Hoover High School, where Pruitt was an assistant from 2004-06. Prattville and Hoover played in the state championship game in 2004 and 2006.
“I’m very familiar with a lot of the guys on his staff,” Pruitt said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he’s done throughout the years. His teams have always been very well-coached. The first thing (the team) said in our meeting from the offensive side is, ‘Man, these guys play hard.’ They’re going to play hard, and all of his teams do. They’ve got a really good football team. They’ve done a nice job in recruiting, they’ve got the guys playing extremely hard, so we’ve got to be at our best on Saturday night.”
Offensive Coaching Staff Prepares Players for Tough Defense
The Vols offense looks to rise to the occasion for the second consecutive week after recording 485 yards of total offense and a season-high 351 yards passing against a South Carolina defense that boasted one of the nation’s top defensive lines.
Pruitt complimented his staff’s game preparation: “I think Coach (Jim) Chaney, Coach (Chris) Weinke, Coach (Tee) Martin, Coach (Brian) Niedermeyer, Coach (Will) Friend, Coach (David) Johnson, all those guys did a fantastic job with our offense this week. We played three quarterbacks in the game and found a way to move the football against a good defense. I know we scored two special-teams touchdowns, but we moved the ball effectively for most of the game, so that was good to see.”
Their efforts resulted in UT’s largest margin of victory over the Gamecocks since 1999 and a pair of individual weekly honors for redshirt senior receiver Jauan Jennings, who wan name the SEC’s Co-Offensive Player of the Week and redshirt senior center Brandon Kennedy, who was named the league’s Offensive Lineman of the Week.
Jennings’ Lasting Leadership
Jennings’ career night against South Carolina, when he accumulated his collegiate-best 175 yards receiving to become the first Tennessee receiver with 150 yards and two touchdowns in over 15 years (since Donte Stallworth, 2001), showcased the passion that his coaches and teammates have noticed throughout his time on Rocky Top.
Highlighted by a play in which he broke four tackles on a 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the second quarter as well as a 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter gave UT the lead for good, his on-field efforts are as evident as his growth off of the field.
“What you all see on Saturdays is what we see every day,” Pruitt said. “We need a team full of Jauan’s. He’s helping to shape a lot of other guys on our football team by how he goes about his business, how he competes, because it’s contagious. It’s great having him here, and I’m thankful that I’ve had a chance to coach him for the last two years.”
When Pruitt took over the program two seasons ago, it was uncertain if Jennings would return to finish his final two years as a Vol. However, after speaking with players, UT personnel and Jennings, Pruitt allowed the Murfreesboro native to return.
“There was a trial period there that we worked through with Jauan,” Pruitt said. “Again, he’s done everything we asked him to do. To me, that’s old news. The news now is, what a leader, what an ambassador he’s been for the university. It goes to show you that when you get second chances, sometimes people make the most of them, and Jauan Jennings has made the most of his chances here this second time around.
“He’s going to leave his mark at the University of Tennessee, not only as a football player, but as a person, a person with character who’s a leader and has given his all for the University of Tennessee.”