KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Vols picked up their first SEC win of the season on Saturday over Mississippi State and now will take on head coach Jeremy Pruitt's alma mater in Tuscaloosa.
Tennessee will meet no. 1 Alabama on Saturday at 9 p.m. on ESPN. It's the 102nd game between the two programs.
Pruitt played defensive back at Alabama in 1995 and 1996 and worked for the Tide for nine seasons including eight under current head coach Nick Saban.
Saban is 18-0 against his former assistants and Alabama has won 12 straight games against the Vols by an average margin of 25.6 points.
Tennessee's freshman quarterback Brian Maurer left the game against Mississippi State with a concussion but Pruitt said he took reps at practice on Sunday night and he'll "be fine."
Here's what Pruitt said at his Monday press conference:
“Just reviewing the Mississippi State game, it is pretty much what I thought when I was watching the game live. We did some really good things offensively. We turned the ball over twice in the red zone, which didn’t help us there. We missed some throws. We had some guys open there that could have created some explosive plays. One of the big positives out of the game was the way our offense took over the last eight minutes of the game. We had a 91-yard drive. It was very positive. We challenged them to do that and they did that.
“Defensively, it probably wasn’t as clean as I was expecting on Saturday. We have to be cleaner when it comes to execution. I thought our guys played hard. The effort and toughness were not an issue. They played hard and found a way. Getting three turnovers was really, really good. We probably had an opportunity to get a couple of more. Defense did a nice job controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. When you look at special teams, I felt like we had an opportunity to block a kick and we didn’t get it done. We had a penalty on kickoff return, so it was our worst drive start of the year when it comes to kickoff returns. We set the tone with the opening kickoff. (Brent) Cimaglia continues to kick the ball extremely well. But overall, there was a lot of positives in the fact that we wanted to be problem solvers and find a way. There was some adversity in the game, whether it was injury or penalties or whatever, and our guys found a way to have success and beat a good football team, so I am excited about that. It is positive for the guys and positive for our football program.
“Then you look at who we played this week and I think Alabama is probably one of the best teams in the country obviously. It starts with their quarterbacks and wide receivers. There would be very few NFL teams that could probably rival that part of their football team. Their skill players; they have really good offensive tackles. Defensively, they have had a few injuries but there are lots of guys with lots of experience that are playmakers. You can look at their signing classes over the years, they just kind of plug and play somebody else. Coach Saban continues to do a fantastic job. He loses coaches and they continue to have success. Steve Sarkisian on the offensive side, I worked with him there for a year in Tuscaloosa and that guy has got a phenomenal mind when it comes to calling the game and imagination offensively. They are doing a really, really nice job there keeping people off balance. I said this last year and I will say it again this year, they have to really work hard to not score 100 points a game. Coach Saban has been kind. He was kind to us last year, and he had been kind to a lot of teams last year. Almost to the point of, does it hurt their football team down the road because they don’t have an opportunity to play four quarters? Because there will be a point in time that they have to play four quarters. That is probably a reason why I have seen them in there a little longer. But (they are) a really good football team, good special teams, really good all around. It will be a tremendous challenge for us.”
On the last drive of the game from the perspective of the offensive line:
“We had an opportunity to have some success running the football Saturday. It might be one guy here or there. We’ve got to be more consistent up front, but I felt like in that drive we were cleaner probably than any other drive for the year. Our running backs hit the correct holes in that drive there, and we blocked well on the perimeter. It was a really good drive. We probably had three or four opportunities to throw the play to Tyler (Byrd) out there that we didn’t that we probably want to take advantage of to make it easier on us, but it was a really good drive.”
On Alabama and LSU now having high-scoring offenses:
“Well, it starts with playmakers. You can look over for a bunch of years there at LSU. They’ve always had great skill players. They’ve just had a certain way they chose to play. Same way in Tuscaloosa. There was a certain mindset of how they wanted to play the game and win the football game, and they had success. You can probably look when it kind of changed there in Tuscaloosa. Are they having any more success when it comes to winning national championships now as opposed to then? I don’t know. They definitely have a lot of playmakers. It’s given them an opportunity to recruit some of the best skilled players in the country based off how they’ve played. I was there when those guys signed there. Most of those guys signed because of the quarterback that was coming in. Good players want to play with good players. You never would have thought that about LSU. I’m with you there. We don’t play them this year, so I haven’t had an opportunity to watch them a whole lot. I did watch them Saturday night, and they’ve got the same skill players. They’ve just really got a quarterback, and they’re willing to throw the ball down the field. They’re putting the game away in empty formation. That was shocking to me, I will say.”
On Brian Maurer’s fall during the game and his condition:
“I mean, he’s got a concussion. He hit his head on the ground, and he’s got a concussion, and we took him out of the game. We didn’t know it until he came out of the game.”
On if Maurer should have been examined immediately following the play:
“I mean, I don’t know how you could. He hit his head on the ground, he jumps up, runs back in the huddle, get a call, calls the next deal. Every play, there’s a lot of people running into each other. They’re hitting their heads. I mean, I guess we could stop the game and evaluate everybody out there, but I don’t think we have time for that.”
On whose idea the orange pants were and if we will see them again:
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t know we had orange pants. So, I just asked Hawk if we did and he said we did, so I said, ‘well, let’s wear them.’ We did it just to kind of change it up, so we did, and I can remember growing up and seeing Tennessee in orange and orange at times, not a whole lot, it’s been years and years ago. But we just changed it up.”
On if Tyler Byrd will be playing more receiver from now on:
“He’s played in every game on the offensive side of the ball. So, it just so happened the balls went to him in this game. So, it was good, and he took advantage of it, and it was good to see. Tyler works hard out there, and he’s really worked hard on his hands, and improving his ball catching ability. That was good to see because he’s always been able to run and is a strong runner, so he took advantage of the opportunity.”
On if the front seven’s success on Saturday is due to schemes or players getting better:
“I would say that it’s probably a little bit of both. I felt like our coaching staff did a nice job of having our guys ready for what they do. We are changing the line of scrimmage a little bit more. Are we where we need to be? Heck no. We’ve got a long way to go before we stay on the other side of the line of scrimmage and control blockers and have a good understanding of exactly how to play it up there, but we are improving. We’re young up front, and they’ll continue to get better. So, it was good to see.”
On what the protocol for Brian Maurer this week is and having coaches like Tee Martin and Chris Rumph on the sideline:
“Brian took some reps last night at practice. So, he’s going to be fine, I’m sure. With Chris, it starts with his position. There’s lots of inexperience there, and we just felt like that was the best move for us. With Tee, we play the most guys at that position, where they roll in and out, and we’re making sure that we get an opportunity to get guys on the field, so a guy like Tyler Byrd has an opportunity to catch a few balls. I felt like that gave us the best opportunity to have the best substitution plan for our wide receivers.”
On if he felt like the pass rush players were executing particularly well:
“I think so. I think we guarded them a little tighter, too. Hey, their quarterbacks held the ball probably when they could’ve gotten rid of the ball. But, there’s probably a little bit of a combination of everything. We’re improving up front, our coaches did a nice job of getting our guys ready to play, our guys executed the plan and probably covered them a little better in the back end.”
On if the game this Saturday has any extra special meaning to him:
“Well, if you know anything about this rivalry, which I do, anybody that’s been associated with this rivalry over their lifetime know it’s a pretty special event or ballgame. The third Saturday in October or the third week in October, so whether you’re on the Tennessee side or the Alabama side, kind of all the old heads so to speak, this is the rivalry, this is the game. So, yeah I grew up watching it, I had the opportunity to play in it, I’ve had an opportunity to coach in it - now on both sides - so this week does kind of get you going right there."
On Ramel Keaton and Jerrod Means and what they have done the past few weeks, and especially Ramel and his ability to make plays:
“Ramel’s made plays really all camp going all the way back to last spring. He’s been a really good playmaker, with Jauan (Jennings) Marquez (Callaway), (Josh) Palmer, it’s been hard to get these guys on the field, the first few games we played Brandon Johnson too. It was one of the reasons we wanted to move Tee (Martin) down on the field, because we felt like our top three guys were probably playing more snaps than they probably should. When you start getting in the 65-plus range, that’s a lot, especially because we are kind of working on about 67 scholarships right now and these guys are also playing special teams too. So we had guys that we felt like could play winning football, but you kind of have to have a feel of when to put them in the game, and it’s a lot easier for Tee to be right there to grab them and put them in as opposed to telling somebody from up top. It’s just tough to communicate that based off working from one line on the offensive side from the play caller or giving the plays to signal in. You don’t want somebody piping in, ‘hey put this guy in the game, put that guy in the game,’ so you kind of got to have a feel. We just felt like it was better for us to get Tee on the field so he could do that.”
On how to handle Alabama’s offensive firepower defensively and having a good mindset going into the game:
“It starts with having plan. You got to have a good plan and know who their playmakers are, which I think everybody does. They stretch you all over the field. You got to be able to take something away, you got to be able to play in space, you got to tackle in space. Do they throw the ball down the field? Sure they do. When you look at them throwing the football, they throw the RPO game a lot, so there’s not a lot protection. When it comes to the offensive line, their blocking a run play, they will also protect with six to seven guys lots of times, maybe even eight guys running two man routes when they are running heavier packages pushing the ball down the field, but they throw every type of pass you can imagine out there. They got good players that they are throwing it to. They do a nice job in protection and when they want to run the football they have had no issues running it, so it’s hard to find a weakness on the offense.”
On Trevon Flowers’ status and Jerome Carvin’s playing time:
“Trevon had a lower leg injury, so we’ll find out a little more this afternoon about him. Jerome Carvin is a guy that played a lot of snaps last year and probably wasn’t ready. He was a true freshman and was a guy that we actually considered possibly redshirting this year depending on how things went. You kind of get to that point where you see how guys are going to develop. We have so many moving parts on the offensive line, starting with Chris Akporoghene injuring his knee and having to have surgery, and then he pulled his hamstring, so you don’t know what this guy is going to do. Darnell Wright was not here during the spring, so you’re talking about two true freshmen there. Jackson Lampley is another guy where you don’t really know what you’re going to get out of him until you start in fall camp. We had some injuries and had some guys there that we had to move around. And then you have Trey Smith and what’s going on there. Just kind of trying to figure all of that out. Just in the last week, you look at Jerome and say, ‘should we redshirt this guy?’ And redshirting isn’t a bad thing for offensive lineman. There are lots of them out there that have done that, it’s a developmental position, but you have to be smart with it. We decided not to, so he had an opportunity to play Saturday and played okay.”
On Nigel Warrior stepping up over the past few games:
“I see a guy that has really developed over the last 22 months. The habits of what he does on the field, off the field, in the locker room, being a leader, in the classroom, Nigel has really matured. He’s a good leader on our football team. He’s worked extremely hard to improve his game and I see some confidence there that probably wasn’t there when he first got here. I think he’s playing his best football right now.”
On the defensive game plan with Henry To’o To’o being out for the first half:
“I was thinking about there’s a high school team over in Arkansas, they always onside kick, they never punt. I’ve never seen them play, [but] I always hear people talk about it. In fact, I think they played one of the high school teams here in our state this year, somebody was talking about it. So, we really kind of considered that as our game plan. Just don’t give them the ball, if we can do that. As far as the other part, we’ll play Daniel Bituli and we’ll play Q (Quavaris Crouch), we’ll play J.J. (Peterson), Solon (Page), we’ll play Aaron Beasley — whoever gives us the best opportunity at success.”