Vols turn attention towards S. Carolina

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt during first half action against Mississippi State Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Michael Patrick/WVLT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Moving on are the key words here, moving on from a difficult loss to Alabama and from a game where the officiating was suspect to say
the least.

Regarding the officiating Saturday, coach Pruitt said
at his weekly news conference Monday that he fully support SEC coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw and his officials. The coach said, "We make mistakes as coaches and they
make mistakes as officials and while coach Pruitt is willing to admit when he's wrong, there's one play he absolutely disagreed with, "Players make mistakes, we all do, nobody's perfect. There're a few critical plays in that game, and I'm not saying it would've changed the outcome of that game, and there was probably some against us too, but unfortunately, we're all held accountable. From the accountability standpoint, it's tough. What are the repercussions here? The call on Darrell Taylor was absolutely not a penalty. Would it change the game? I don't know. I know they would punt instead of going on and scoring that possession."

Also, for the second straight week, starting quarterback Brian Maurer
sustained a head injury and was knocked out of the game.
and for the second straight week Maurer has had to enter the concussion protocol where he's closely observed by medical staff... it's all because of this play where Bama's De'Marquise Lockridge
gets to Maurer who then hits his head against offensive
tackle Darnell Wright's leg. Pruitt responded to Maurer's
status and preparations this week in case the freshman can't go
against South Carolina, "I trust our medical staff. They are the ones that make the decisions like that. I meet with our players throughout the week, but it is never about any kind of medical decision. I've not talked to our medical staff about where he's at today yet, but we're going to get the other guys ready."

As for the botched 4th and goal play and the anger directed afterwards by coach Pruitt at quarterback Jarrett Guarantano the coach said, " it's pretty obvious what happened, it's over with and we've moved on,There're lots of decisions that happened in the game that could've changed the course of the game, but that was one play, unfortunately it was an important play. He's a guy that is going to continue to go to work. Me and him have a relationship where I'm going to coach him hard. I'm going to coach all of our players hard, but he's a guy that I believe in and i still do."


“When you go back and look at the film, one thing I will say is our players and coaches have done a fantastic job after a slow start to the season of sticking together, working hard and buying into the culture that we are trying to establish here. I felt like Saturday we showed really good competitive character. (We) stayed together. There was adversity during the game and our guys tried to play through it and played hard and tough. We obviously made some mistakes in the game that kept us from finishing the game off. One of the things we have to focus on is to continue to develop physicality and toughness to play together. We have to find a way to win football games. That is the bottom line.

“We put ourselves in a great opportunity through some of the adversity, but we missed out on some opportunities and it is something we need to learn from. We don’t need to let it happen again. I thought offensively, our offensive line probably played their best game. It wasn’t perfect the whole time. Our running backs ran the ball pretty well. We have to build off that and continue to improve there. We have to make some plays in the passing game, but we had a couple turnovers early in the game where we lost vertical field position. There are three times in the game that they started inside our 40-yard-line. We can’t let that happen. We did get a stop one time in the red zone. And then, we turned the ball over once in the red zone. There are a lot of things that we need to improve on and there are lots of really good things that we can build off of.

“But we have moved on. We play a really good South Carolina football team this weekend. They get turnovers on defense. You can count on coach (Will) Muschamps’ defense to be tough and be sound. They play in your face and lots of man-to-man (defense). They are really good upfront. The defensive line might be the best defensive line we have played all year. Offensively, they have lost their quarterback and have had a couple injuries there, but they have found ways. They have been stubborn running the football. They have done a really nice job doing that. They find ways to create explosive plays. They have good runners and good players on the outside. They have good kickers and good return guys in special teams. It is going to be a tremendous challenge for us.

“We have played three really physical games against good opponents in a row. We have to get ready to play another one. Neyland (Stadium) has been really an electric atmosphere this whole season. I know it will be again Saturday and it will be a huge advantage for us. We are excited about the opportunity to come back and play at home in front of a great crowd.”

On the status of Brian Maurer and if he will play this Saturday:
“I trust our medical staff. They are the ones that make the decisions like that. I meet with our players throughout the week, but it is never about any kind of medical decision. I trust our staff and right now, they are still trying to determine where he is at.”

On if Maurer will return to play this week:

“We’ll see how the week goes.”

On the similarities between himself and Will Muschamp having both worked under Nick Saban:

“We definitely worked with a lot of the same people. Me and Will have never worked together, but we’ve talked several times since I’ve been a coach here - we talked yesterday. I think his teams always play extremely hard. I think they take on his character – they’re tough, they’re physical, and they’re sound, they always give you different looks, and they win a lot of really close games. If you look at last year, there was a lot of one-score games – our game – they beat us 27-24. They found a way in, so we’re going to have our hands full with them for sure.”

On the performance of the offensive line, and the reason for the improved play:

“For one, we have guys that are starting to get used to playing together. When you talk about the combination of our offensive line, some of the injuries – Jahmir Johnson has been injured, Riley Locklear has been injured, Trey (Smith) not being able to practice, Wanya (Morris) and Darnell (Wright) just getting here, and (K’Rojhn) Calbert in there, Ryan Johnson, there’s lots of different combinations there. I think the guys are starting to play together in the same system. Now we’re getting into the end of the year here so some of the plays, they’ve had a lot of repetition doing them over and over again, so we continue to improve that. I think our backs are starting to get more comfortable with the reads and hitting the holes the right way, and there’s a lot that goes into that. I thought our offensive line had an opportunity on Saturday, especially in the second half, to take the game over. We’d gone a long drive there in the fourth quarter, and we don’t stick one in there on the one inch line, but, in that drive our offensive line took the game over, and that was good to see.”

On how he makes sure his team gets past the inevitable obstacles such as officiating:

“I’ll be the first to tell you that I fully support Steve Shaw and everything that goes about this. It’s a tough job, a very tough job. Things happen really fast; there are probably three or four things that happened during the game that I’m complaining to the officials about, and I was wrong. When I went back and watched the tape, they were right and I was wrong. There’re probably three or four other things that happened in that game that I don’t agree with. There’s nothing that Steve could tell me, or anyone else could tell me that I would agree with whether it was a flag on us or not a flag on us. We make mistakes as coaches, and they’re going to make mistakes as officials. Players make mistakes, we all do, nobody’s perfect. There’re a few critical plays in that game, and I’m not saying it would’ve changed the outcome of that game, and there was probably some against us too, but unfortunately, we’re all held accountable. From the accountability standpoint, it’s tough. What are the repercussions here? The call on Darrell Taylor was absolutely not a penalty. Would it change the game? I don’t know. I know they would punt instead of going on and scoring that possession. Could they have gone and scored the next possession? Sure. There are a couple of things in there where I felt like they took shots on our quarterback, absolutely. Their kids are playing hard just like our kids did, but we got a couple of targeting calls in the last two weeks. The officials in the game, they throw one. If it gets overruled in Birmingham, or from the replay booth, or whatever – just the consistency there. It’s a tough deal for everybody involved, and accountability is even tougher, but for our players, we’re moving on. There’s nothing we can do about last week. We had 60 minutes to do that. As coaches, as players, we all contributed to the loss. I though our players played extremely hard, and tried to do exactly what we wanted them to do. We have to execute at a higher level, and do a better job as a coaching staff to give them an opportunity to do that and we’ll start today to fix that. “

On if he was given an explanation from the officials on any of the big calls in the game:

“I think there was a penalty on one of them or a spot on the stopping of the clock. They’re trying to get it right, the officials are trying to get it right, just like when I wake up in the morning and I walk out there, I’m not saying, ‘I want to make a mistake as a coach today”, or a player, nobody operates that way. So, we’re all trying to get it right, and it’s a tough game to manage, but there’s certain things that can be overturned, and there’s certain things like where we get a holding call in the red area, actually two holding calls in the red area, and hey, maybe we held, but you know what, you can call holding every single play in college football. We also got a lineman downfield penalty in the red area, and every RPO that’s out there, there are guys five to seven yards downfield on every play that somebody throws an RPO, which is really what the game has become. Our guy was five yards downfield blocking a guy. So, like I said before, the inconsistencies, the accountability repercussion of what really goes into it, it’s a tough deal. But everybody is trying to do their best to make our game the best it possibly can be.”

On the targeting call on Daniel Bituli and how some of the younger linebackers responded to more playing time:

“To me, where Daniel got thrown out of the game for targeting, I think it was targeting, he hit the guy with the crown of his helmet. I don’t know where he hit him at, but it doesn’t matter, and I really don’t know what I could tell Daniel to do any differently because the guy was six inches off of the ground, and it’s hard to go from here to there without hitting him there. So, it is what it is, but there are also rules to it where, in my opinion, there were probably a couple of other targeting plays in the game that weren’t called, and that’s what I don’t understand because that goes back to the replay booth to protect the game. So, we’ll see. I feel like Q (Quavaris Crouch) played really hard, he’s learning a new position, and J.J. (Peterson) for the first time got out there, and he was a little bit all over the place, but he ran around and made a few tackles.”