Jeremy Pruitt is entering what is the most important bye week of his short head coaching career. Tennessee is in the midst of a three-game losing streak to Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama. The Vols have been outscored 106-24 over the last 10 quarters of football that they have played. In that same 10 quarter stretch, the Tennessee offense has given up more points, 28, than they have scored, 24. The Vols have allowed defensive scores in three straight games. They have lost at home to Kentucky for the first time since 1984, by the worst deficit since 1938. They have lost for a 14th time in a row against Alabama, and were blown out yet again. Mac Jones threw for more yards in the first quarter, without his best receiver, than Jarrett Guarantano has thrown for in entire games this season, including this one. The play calling on offense has been maddening, and the handling of the quarterback situation has been baffling. Then there was the firing of Defensive Line Coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, leading the Tennessee head coach to take over as a position coach as well. There is no team in the country that needs a bye more than Tennessee right now, and Jeremy Pruitt and his staff need it worse than the players at this point. The season is still salvageable for Tennessee, but for that to happen, Pruitt and his staff need to do everything right over the next two weeks. It is getting to the point that their jobs may depend on it.
To be clear, this is not a, “Fire Jeremy Pruitt,” article. It is, however, an article that can take a step back and evaluate the situation, and where it is going to lead unless the Vols make some drastic changes. It is getting difficult to defend Jeremy Pruitt at this point. 12 of his 15 losses as Tennessee's head coach have been by 21 points or more. In three seasons he has losses to Vanderbilt, Georgia State, BYU, and Kentucky, while also going 0-8 against Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. No matter the state of the Tennessee program when he took over, those are some grim numbers. Losing to Vanderbilt and Kentucky is not acceptable at Tennessee, fair or otherwise. Losing those games, as well as games like Georgia State can lead to coaches getting fired. Jeremy Pruitt has done a good job recruiting and revising the foundations of the Tennessee program. The Vols are a dramatically better team today, with better athletes and depth, than when Pruitt took over. The problem is that you can only sell potential for so long before people begin to expect results, and the Vols are short on those.
The single position that has come to define Jeremy Pruitt's time at Tennessee has been quarterback. The Vols enter the bye week, and they must make a definitive decision on their direction at quarterback. What's more, if Jeremy Pruitt wants to keep from losing this team and potentially his job, it is imperative that he gets this decision right. Pruitt continues to say that Jarrett Guarantano gives the team the best chance to win, and that he performs well in practice. Pruitt said that he felt Tennessee's effort against Alabama was, “One of their best offensive performances of the year.” The fifth-year senior and four-year starter was 13-24 for 162 yards and 2 touchdowns. This was by far one of Guarantano’s best performances statistically this season, and therein lies the problem. Despite the confidence Pruitt publically heaps on Guarantano, the fact is that in a blowout loss, his offensive coordinator is afraid to call pass plays in the game. The Vols ran the ball consistently into 8 and 9-man Alabama fronts, even on third and longs. This is not a new scenario for Guarantano. The Vols have been stubbornly running into stacked fronts for two years because the staff doesn't trust Guarantano on pass plays. The proof is in the play calling, and it is clear that Tennessee doesn't feel confident to let their senior signal caller throw the ball in advantageous down and distances, even against heavy run fronts. The line has held up much better against Kentucky and Alabama, especially in terms of protecting Guarantano, and on what his coach called one of his best days, the staff was afraid to call passes and he put up very pedestrian numbers. Tennessee knows what their team is with Guarantano, and amidst this losing streak, any hopes of Atlanta are shot. In a season where eligibility is not counted against players, it is time to look to the future. To be frank, if Pruitt continues to ride with Guarantano, he is likely sealing his own fate. The team needs to work for the future, and the offense as a whole desperately needs to be changed up. If the Vols aren't going to make the switch to freshman Harrison Bailey leading up to Arkansas, then they likely won't make the move this season. All things considered, with no one in front of him playing well enough to justify keeping the job, it is common sense to let the freshman give the Tennessee offense a spark and open the playbook up.
Speaking of playbooks and quarterback development, the two hottest seats in Knoxville right now may be Chris Weinke and Jim Chaney. The two, brought in to help Tennessee's quarterbacks, have been an abject failure in that department thus fair. Aside from seeing very little, if any, development from Jarrett Guarantano, the pair were unable to offer a replacement they deemed, “Ready,” amidst Guarantano meltdowns and stretches of being completely ineffective. That lack of development or having any other signal caller prepared to come in and play after multiple years is completely unacceptable and a failure by both coaches. Increasing the pressure on Chaney has been three consecutive weeks of maddening play calling. The Vols have been somewhere between conservative, stubborn, and stupid for their decisions to continue to bang into loaded boxes, right up the middle, in third and long situations. There has been speculation that Chaney has been handcuffed by poor quarterback play, but at this point, Chaney is responsible for not developing anyone he feels confident running his offense. Again, the praise to the media is one thing, but when the rubber meets the road, when it comes to play calling, it is clear Chaney doesn't trust his quarterback to throw. The Vols have to find answers on offense, having allowed more points than they have scored in their last 10 quarters and three straight games allowing a defensive score. Tennessee needs to examine the offensive philosophy that has brought them here, and correct it immediately. This quarterback situation may cost several coaches their jobs before it is over, but unless Chaney and Weinke can find answers over this bye week in a hurry, they figure to be the first ones up.
The Tennessee offense has been in the doldrums, hamstrung by poor quarterback play and bad play calling. The Tennessee line has been good, especially considering the holes they have opened against fronts stacked to stop the run. The running backs have been productive, and the wide receivers have been as well when they have had balls to make plays on. Right now, even with the play calling, everything comes back to the quarterback situation. The Vols have to make a change and they have to get things right. Tennessee desperately needs to show potential with their young signal caller, spark the offense, and groom him for the future. If Jeremy Pruitt continues to stick with the known commodity in Jarrett Guarantano, he will see the same kind of offensive results they have gotten the last three years. He will also risk losing his team if the offense continues to be ineffective passing, and his job if the losses keep piling up. The Tennessee defense needs their share of work, but the offense is in a state that can end careers unless it is corrected.