The Tennessee Vols weren’t in a good place when Jeremy Pruitt took over in late 2017.

And they weren’t in a good place two weeks into the 2019 season, either.

After season opening back-to-back losses to Georgia State and BYU, there were plenty of folks (fans and media) who were questioning whether or not the Tennessee job was too big for Pruitt.

Pruitt, however, never blinked. He didn’t panic. The second year head stayed the course. It’s still early in Pruitt’s tenure at UT, but his plan has already paid off this season with big wins over Mississippi State and South Carolina.

And this is just the beginning.

The Vols probably shouldn’t have beat the Gamecocks on Saturday night in Knoxville. Quarterback Brian Maurer, who started the last two games for Tennessee, was ruled out before the game. Jarrett Guarantano, who started the first five games of the season for the Vols, seemingly lost the trust of the coaching staff after changing a play at the goal line against Alabama last week. That left redshirt freshman JT Shrout, who has seen limited action this season, as the Vols’ perceived top quarterback.

Pruitt elected to use both Shrout and Guarantano (as well as Jauan Jennings in the wildcat) against South Carolina. It’s a strategy that was questionable on paper, but it worked to near perfection in UT’s 41-21 win.

The fact that Guarantano not only played against South Carolina, but was one of the key reasons the Vols won, tells me A LOT about Pruitt as a head coach.

Guarantano had a rough week after the loss to Alabama. The media was tough on him, after it became apparent that he went rogue against the Tide. Fans were even tougher (social media can be a vicious place for athletes). The perception was that Guarantano had lost his confidence and would never be a useful part of Tennessee’s program again.

But that’s not how things ended up playing out. Guarantano came up huge on Saturday against the Gamecocks. And Pruitt is a big reason why. He never threw Guarantano under the bus for his decision against Alabama. Pruitt kept the team on the same page, which is pretty stunning for a team that was 2-5 and faced a lot of adversity in Tuscaloosa. He also managed to keep Guarantano’s confidence at a high level. That’s a hell of a coaching job by Pruitt.

After a rough start to the season, the Vols are playing harder than ever. The offensive line looks better than it has in years, which in turn has allowed the vertical passing game to open up. Tennessee has some of its swagger back.

I understand why fans and media were down on Pruitt in early September. Tennessee can never, ever lose to Georgia State. But unexplainable things happen in college football. And the Vols obviously learned from it.

Tennessee is playing classic Tennessee football right now. And they’re doing with a very young and inexperienced team.

Just imagine what Pruitt is going to be able to do with a team full of upperclassmen that he recruited.

It’s about to get fun on Rocky Top. Fans have been waiting for this for the last decade.

Game on, SEC.

Featured image via Randy Sartin/USA Today
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