KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee football team continued preparation for a “big, physical” Kentucky team with its third practice of the week on Wednesday at Haslam Field.
The Vols practiced in shells and shorts as they get ready to take on a Wildcat team that has won two of its last three games.
“They have a really good football team, they’re good in special teams, they play smart, they play together, they’re tough, and they’re physical,” head football coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We have a heck of a challenge and we have to get our guys to where we play our best game which we have not done yet.”
Tennessee will look to pass for more yards in the matchup with Kentucky for the sixth straight meeting. Four Vols – Jarrett Guarantano, Brian Maurer, Jauan Jennings and J.T. Shrout – have all taken snaps at quarterback this season. They will go up against a Kentucky defense that ranks third in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game (180.5).
“Up front (Kentucky) has physical guys that create negative plays, draw double teams,” Pruitt said. “They have lots of playmakers in the front seven.
“They replaced a lot of guys in the backend and they are playing extremely well. They’ll give you a lot of different looks and Mark (Stoops) always does a fantastic job. This is one of the best defenses in our league, which means it’s one of the best defenses in the country.”
Tennessee is the only team in the country to have four different players start at quarterback and win during the 2019 season. Though three players took snaps against UAB, Pruitt doesn’t believe it messes up their rhythm.
“I don’t think who plays the position has anything to do with the rhythm,” Pruitt said. “I think the production at the position has a lot to do with the rhythm… The way we practice with our guys taking multiple reps with each group, there shouldn’t be an issue there.”
Taylor, Vols Defense Look For Another Breakout Performance Against Kentucky
Senior linebacker Darrell Taylor made history last season against Kentucky, recording four sacks during the Vols’ 24-7 win over the No. 11 Wildcats. He became just the third player in program history with four sacks in a game.
Despite more success this season leading to him facing double teams from opponents, Taylor has still posted an SEC-leading six sacks, while Tennessee as a team is tied for second in the league with 23 sacks.
“We are always trying to find ways to affect the quarterback,” Pruitt said. “Darrell is a guy that has ability. We have other guys that have ability.
“That is something that we are looking for each week. A lot of that has to do with how you disguise in the back end. You can bring all the pressure you want, but if they know you’re bringing it they are just going to get rid of it. We have to do a good job back there.”
Tennessee Football Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Transcript – Nov. 6, 2019
“You know probably, for the first time in a very long time, practice wasn’t what I wanted it to be today. It’s something that we can’t let happen. It’s like I told the kids; there’s a reason why there’s one team that stands up there at the end of the year. Everybody can work, or get it right for one Saturday or a couple of Saturdays. But being able to sustain, working at the level that you got to work at to create the right habits, we didn’t do that today. We got to come back, watch the tape and figure out why and get it fixed. When you look at Kentucky, this team is first of all extremely physical, there’s a lot of big dudes out there in the line of scrimmage. I’m going to start defensively, up front they got physical guys that create negative plays, draw double teams. They got lots of playmakers in the front seven. They replaced a lot of guys in the backend and they are playing extremely well. They’ll give you a lot of different looks and Mark Stoops has always done a fantastic job. This is one of the best defenses in our league, which means it’s one of the best defenses in the country. Offensively, they have kind of changed. Obviously, as the season has went Eddie (Gran) has done a fantastic job figuring out a way to be productive. I’m sure coming into the season; this wasn’t how they planned to be losing two quarterbacks. They found a way to win two out of the last three games and play Georgia tooth and nail. They had a couple of calls that probably didn’t go their way that hurt them in that game. Really playing well, had a chance to beat Florida, probably should early in the year. Probably should be 5-3 right now, and that’s with losing their quarterbacks. They have a really good football team, they’re good in special teams, they play smart, they play together, they’re tough, and they’re physical. We got a heck of a challenge and we got to get our guys to where we play our best game which we have not done yet.”
On playing two different quarterbacks:
“We work it in practice, we go against our guys. Going against Jauan (Jennings) or Tim (Jordan) or Ty (Chandler) or Eric (Gray) playing quarterback, we work it. I believe that their quarterback, Bowden, can throw the football. You look at some of the throws he’s made and they’re pretty good. Two of the games that he has played quarterback it has been raining like crazy so I am not sure who could have thrown the ball in those games. It’s not like he’s a one-dimensional guy that doesn’t throw the ball and they’ve got playmakers on the outside. Obviously, you’ve got to be able to stop the run but you’ve got to eliminate explosive plays and kind of make them earn it. We’ve got to find a way to get some turnovers and when it gets to third down, we’ve got to get off the field and make them kick field goals in the red area.”
On what left him displeased with today’s practice:
“Energy. Everyone has it. We are here in November and it’s a grind. We are at the point to where this is the sixth game since we have had an off week. As a coach you circle that game in the preseason and say that we have to find a way to be at our best. We are banged up and sore like every other team in the country. We have to show some maturity and be able to push through to get the work done that we need to get done to play at our best on Saturday.”
On how difficult it can be to keep the rhythm of an offense with different quarterbacks:
“I think what messes up the rhythm of the offense is when you don’t block the people up front, when you don’t hit open receivers, when you don’t catch the ball and when you turn it over. I think there is more to that. I don’t think who plays the position has anything to do with the rhythm. I think the production at the position has a lot to do with the rhythm. I get your point. I’ve seen some teams play two or three quarterbacks and they all look the same. They just roll right in there. There are a lot of things that go into it. The way we practice with our guys taking multiple reps with each group, there shouldn’t be an issue there.”
On the cold weather affecting Jarrett Guarantano and his split size getting smaller further out from surgery:
“I don’t know about the split. I don’t think that was an issue Saturday. It was a little warmer last week and the first time that it got cool was after the front came through. Seeing how he did in warmups was us wanting to see how he could handle it. After playing in that game, we should have a much better idea with what we will get.”
On teams scheming to stop Darrell Taylor:
“I really have been focused on our guys. Each week we have been trying to find ways to generate a pass rush. Do we need to bring more than they can block? Do we need to drop eight? Do we need rush four? Do we need to bring five or six? Do we need to change the coverage? We are always trying to find ways to affect the quarterback. I feel like we have done that on a regular basis this year. There has been a couple of games where we have not and that was earlier in the year. Every week we are looking to do that. Darrell is a guy that has ability. We have other guys that have ability. That is something that we are looking for each week. A lot of that has to do with how you disguise in the back end. You can bring all the pressure you want, but if they know you’re bringing it, they are just going to get rid of it. We have to do a good job back there.”
On the affect of Jarrett Guarantano’s injury to his left hand and going into a loud environment and not being able to clap:
“We have a plan.”
On the health of the offensive line:
“We’ve got several guys that are banged up unfortunately. Against South Carolina we had several guys go down and we kind of limped to the finish line in that game. With the offensive line, not a lot of numbers there, because they were all at the same position. Some of the guys couldn’t play last week against UAB but they are much better this week. Where are they at? Are they 100 percent? Probably not but most of them are close enough to be ready to play. It’s important to our team to play well Saturday and I think a lot of these guys are working hard to get healthy so they can be at their best.”
On playing a more traditional 4-3 or 3-4 defense:
“It’s a thought. Most of the time we matchup based off their personnel. Kentucky does it some, you can have your third wide receiver on the field and sometimes they play regular. I did it at other places, trying to get our best players on the field. That’s more so what I’m looking at, how does our game plan fit and how do we get our best players on the field. It’s always an option.
On using last season’s road games to try and prepare for this season;
“If you look at our team, there are some guys that were on the team last year. We have lots of guys that are playing and playing important roles that weren’t on the team last year. I think it’s better for us to probably learn from our experiences this year which would be at Florida and at Alabama. I think that would probably be something we as a staff or we as a team would draw upon more so than last year.”
On Baylen Buchannan’s outlook for the rest of this season:
“He went to see the doctor either today or is going tomorrow. It’s tomorrow now that I think about it. He was out there at practice today. So, if he gets what the doctors are looking for, he might be able to play by next week or the week after. If not, then we might say “hey let’s let him practice for a while first then see where he’s at after”. Whatever they say we will do. But he’s working hard at getting back to being able to play. Based off the information that I have been told, there’s a good possibility that will happen.”
On how he keeps his team fresh at this point in the season:
“We have adopted a practice policy for this fall that’s a little unusual and different then I have ever been around. And it’s really based off Trey Smith, trying to get him an opportunity to take more reps. If you play at eight or nine o’clock at night, and you don’t get back until six on a Sunday morning, just based off rest and when you play the following Saturday has a lot to do with it. I’ve kind of changed a little bit this fall, trying to take some of that into account to help our guys be fresh. We are short on numbers, probably operating at about 63 or 64 scholarship players that are eligible to play based off injuries. We are thin at certain positions, so we’ve got to be smart, got to be able to get them to the game. But at the same time, you have to have focus, have mental energy, practice with the right intensity to be prepared to play on Saturday. So, there’s a fine line there that we have kind of juggled all year.”