By Jimmy Hyams
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt harped on the Vols’ lack of execution in a stunning 38-30 loss to a 10-year old program — Georgia State.
His message was clear: The Vols don’t have enough talent to beat many teams if they don’t pay attention to details.
“We’ve got to quit beating ourselves before we can beat someone else,’’ Pruitt said.
Pruitt said his team needs more competition in practice, meaning more players pushing the starters.
“That makes you better,’’ Pruitt said post game. “At certain positions, we have none.’’
That’s a problem.
Another problem was lack of intensity, lack of effort at times.
“We’ve got to practice with an edge, play with an edge, coach with an edge,’’ Pruitt said.
All of that seemed to be lacking in the season opener.
While the offense showed some spark and has some potential, the defense appears to be in dire straits. As the game wore on, the Panthers wore out UT’s defensive line and had success with the run game.
Georgia State rushed for 16 yards in the first quarter, 53 yards in the first half.
In the second half, the Panthers pounded the Vols for rushing 160 yards. They converted eight of nine third downs in short-yardage situations. The only failure was in the final minute with the game on ice.
Tennessee’s defensive line was battered and bruised in the second half, and didn’t appear to be in as good a condition as Georgia’s State offensive line.
The fix for UT’s run defense won’t be easy.
“As coaches you feel like if you don’t have success,’’ Pruitt said, “you feel like you have to fix it with a call. I totally disagree with that. I think you have to fix it with fundamentals.
“I’d rather run one call and get it right. I told our coaching staff today there was one year I was defensive coordinator (likely at Alabama) and we probably had one of the best defenses in the history of college football. We played one game and we called the same call every snap. Those guys were capable of calling everything, but why did we need to do that if we could play the right way calling one thing.
“If you look over the last 100 years, there have been a lot of great defenses, right. And people have played great defense a bunch of different ways.
“So to me it’s the temperament that you play with. It’s the execution you play with, how you play together. Being smart.’’
Tennessee certainly didn’t play that way. Perhaps it was because the defense didn’t have nose tackle Emmit Gooden, cornerback Bryce Thompson, nickel back Baylen Buchanan and – most importantly – linebacker Daniel Bituli, who is not only a standout tackler but the defensive signal caller.
“We have a lot of youth, ok,’’ Pruitt said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of anxiety and lot of inexperience there. We’ve got to keep coaching them, keep pushing them. We’ve got good players in there. We’ve got good people. They’re going to respond the right way.
“Are we all disappointed today (Saturday)? Sure we are, ok. But the sun’s going to come up tomorrow and we’re going to get ready to play BYU, and we’ve got to bring our best game next Saturday.’’
If not, an 0-2 start would be disastrous for a fan base that has grown weary of losing.