There’s really no other way to say it — the Tennessee Vols’ 34-7 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium was a complete disaster.
The quarterback play from redshirt senior Jarrett Guarantano was awful. Redshirt sophomore JT Shrout didn’t fare any better (he threw an interception when he came into the game after Guarantano’s two interceptions). And true freshman Harrison Bailey is obviously still a bit green.
But even with sub-par quarterback play, the Vols still should’ve beat Kentucky. Tennessee is absolutely the more talented team.
There are zero excuses for the loss — it falls squarely on UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
But despite the inexplicable loss to the Wildcats, I still think Vol fans need to (cautiously) stick by Pruitt.
And it’s really pretty simple why — Pruitt knows football as well as any coach in the nation. This isn’t the case of a Butch Jones situation where the head coach has no clue what he’s doing.
Pruitt’s resume speaks for itself — he can coach.
Now, when it comes to being a head coach?
He’s clearly still figuring that part out.
Are there red flags with Pruitt?
Absolutely. The loss to Kentucky at home is a major red flag.
The fact that UT doesn’t have a capable quarterback right now is also a major red flag.
Those red flags can’t be ignored.
Before Saturday, I felt pretty confident that Pruitt would turn Tennessee into a perennial top ten team. But after the loss to the Wildcats….well I’m not so certain anymore.
It’s not that I think Pruitt can’t get the Vols there. It’s just that there’s a real possibility that he might not be able to get them there. Pruitt could be another Will Muschamp (decent head coach that trots out “average” teams on a yearly basis).
We simply don’t know.
But even with all that doubt circulating, I still think Tennessee needs to stay committed to Pruitt.
Because if Pruitt isn’t the answer, then what?
Tennessee has been searching for the appropriate heir to Phillip Fulmer for 12 years. There have been four coaching searches since Fulmer was let go after 2008.
Do we really think that coaching search No. 5 is going to turn out any better?
Fool me once…well you know the rest.
Maybe Pruitt isn’t the answer. Or maybe he will turn out to be great after learning on the job for a few years. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know.
Tennessee isn’t going to be contending for national championships anytime soon. Moving on from Pruitt won’t change that. In fact, it could delay it even more.
It’s a tough time to be a Vol fan. Everyone wants answers when there simply aren’t any.
Positives for the Vols after the loss
There were a few things said after Saturday’s game that I thought were encouraging.
Pruitt made it a point to mention that numerous players haven’t practiced much because of COVID-19 issues. I wasn’t a fan of that excuse — mainly because every team is dealing with the same issue. But I was encouraged that Pruitt was self-aware to know that it sounded like an excuse.
Self-awareness is a trait that’s a must for any successful head coach. If it’s absent, then failure is certain to follow.
Jeremy Pruitt: I hate to say this because I’m not an excuse maker, but there’s guys not playing well because they didn’t get to practice during fall camp.
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) October 17, 2020
Something else that I thought was positive was what offensive lineman Trey Smith had to say after the game. Smith passionately defended Guarantano.
While I don’t necessarily agree with Smith, it’s a great sign that the team is unified. And that’s the most important thing right now. As long as the team stays together, Pruitt can find a way to right the ship.
Trey Smith: “Going forward, I don’t want to see any Jarrett Guarantano slander. I don’t want to see it.”
— David Ubben (@davidubben) October 17, 2020
I don’t know how things will go from here, but I know what Tennessee should do.
Stay the course.
Featured image via Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK