Jeremy Pruitt Has to Get the Offense Rolling in Year 2
It’s been 12 years since the Tennessee Volunteers won 10 games in a season. 12. Years. To say that feels like forever to Vols fans may be an understatement. But, after dealing with Butch Jones, just getting him the hell out of Knoxville feels like a win. In 2018, the program began to rebuild from the ground up with first year head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
The coaching search may have been a hell of a shit show, but the Vols ended up with the right guy at the helm. Some may have seen that 5-7 campaign in 2018 as a disappointment, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism when you look back at his rookie campaign as head coach. The success Kirby Smart has seen with the Georgia Bulldogs may have skewed expectations a bit. But, lest we forget, the Bulldogs were a top 10 program consistently before Smart’s arrival. Pruitt had a much taller task at hand.
And, that showed in 2018. The offense was awful, finishing 11th in the SEC in passing and dead last in rushing. Even the lowly Arkansas Razorbacks finished ahead of the Vols in total offense. While QB Jarrett Guarantano had a nice completion percentage (62.2%) and passer rating (141), he didn’t make a lot of big plays…a common thread from an offense that was anemic. Guarantano only eclipsed 200 passing yards twice in 2018, and finished the season with just 12 touchdowns (to three interceptions). The Vols failed to produce a thousand yard rusher or a thousand yard receiver.
“….but, wait Stoney…you said reason for optimism?”
Yeah – think about how bad that Vols offense was. How hard it was to watch at times….and yet, they still showed flashes. That team went on the road and beat a ranked Auburn Tigers squad a year ago. Guarantano went 21/32 for 328 yards and two touchdowns in that game. They hosted a Kentucky Wildcats that was a top 10 program at one point in the season, and beat ’em 24-7, rushing for 215 yards in the process. They showed the potential of some real offense in those games, and they went into the final game of the season with bowl eligibility on the line.
Sure, they shit the bed against the Vanderbilt Commodores, and maybe that’s why so many people soured on the Vols. But, while finishing 5-7 didn’t appease the fan base, the eye test tells us that that team was an ahead-of-schedule type of 5-7. Hell, I’d go as far as to say they even overachieved in 2018 given what a crappy offseason they’d had before it.
So, the question now becomes, “what can Jeremy Pruitt do to keep that arrow pointing up?”
Item #1 – bringing in Jim Chaney. That was a hell of a get. Chaney brings with him an offense that’s heavy on zone run schemes and multiplicity. If it works, it’ll open up the passing game. He also has a reputation for developing quarterbacks. Guarantano enters 2019 as one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. That’s an advantage. Chaney and company have to figure out how to maximize his ability.
Item #2 – culture. It’s what everyone in college football wants….that Alabama and Clemson type of team culture. Jeremy Pruitt is well-versed in it. Now, it’s about implementing it, hammering it in, and getting the players to continue to buy into it. As recruiting classes continue to file in, that culture will settle in. Just gotta trust the process.
Item #3 – dance with who brung ya. There’s some proven talent on this offense. I’ve mentioned Guarantano quite a bit, and getting the most of him is important, but you also have a potentially explosive guy in Ty Chandler that the Vols need to not misuse a la Alvin Kamara. Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings both have electric potential at the receiver position. No need to reinvent the wheel – just get your play-makers involved. Feed. These. Guys.
Item #4 – the X-factor. It’s that offensive line. For lack of a better term, it’s a veritable puzzle right now. And, the way Pruitt and Chaney put those pieces together could dictate how the entire offense performs. We probably aren’t going to know the final iteration of it until the Georgia State game kicks off on Saturday. They have to get this right.
There are pieces…cornerstone type pieces…all over this Vols roster. If Jeremy Pruitt can get the engine to turn over, this defense will be good enough to keep them competitive. If he can’t get the offense going, this might not be a bowl team in 2019.
A lot’s riding on what this regime is able to get out of this offense in 2019.
Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD and #BeBetter. “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley