No. 21 Tennessee football held on to beat South Carolina 31-27 in its season-opener on Saturday night.
Here is everything Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said after UT won its seventh game in a row:
“I’m tickled to death that we won. But, first off, I want to really compliment the way South Carolina played, the way they competed. They never quit. It’s just the ball bounced our way a couple of times. And it’s a shame right now that, with what all these young men are going through, that there has to be a winner and a loser. I think, by everybody getting to play tonight, (it) absolutely was a win for some of these guys, and I’m glad that we got a chance to do that. I’m proud of our players. I’m proud of our staff, everybody in our organization.
“When you start thinking about what all these young men at every college has done since March: They go home. Some of them were called back in June. Some of them were called back in July, depending on the university. Maybe some of them were called back in August. But when they came back, they were facing something that we knew nothing about. And the courage that it took for these young men to come back, not knowing what tomorrow holds, the faith that they’ve had in all the institutions that they represent.
“When you look at the social injustice that has went across our country and to see the courage that the players on our team, the players on the other teams — it’s inspiring to me, this generation of young men and women that are really fighting the fight. It’s encouraging for the future of our country to me. But I just can’t say how proud I am of our players, the other players across the country for what they’ve been going through.
“I’m sure everywhere, you look at these young men right now, they’re having to take tests three days a week. And when you witness it, they’re taking these tests with very high anxiety. They’re not living the normal life that they lived, like the rest of us did when they were in college. They sit there in their rooms quarantining themselves so they don’t put themselves at risk. The sacrifices that they’re taking, it’s really inspiring to see the courage and the willingness and how important this stuff is to all these players.
“And I just want to commend our players and everybody across the country that are doing this. It’s inspiring to watch. And the last thing that I don’t think nobody — really, there’s no way to measure it — is the mental-health piece. When you sit in your room not doing what you normally would do while you’re in college or high school, trying to make sure that you quarantine, there’s not a whole lot to do. And the sacrifices that all of these young men and women are making right now to have an opportunity to be able to play says a whole lot about them.
“But I just wanted to say that. It’s been inspiring to watch.
“Tonight’s game, we made a lot of mistakes early on. We had a botched snap. Had the ball driven right through us on the opening drive. There was a lot of good. We just were very inconsistent, and that’s the one thing that we’ve not just challenged our team. We played about like I thought we would play. Being in this business for a while, you know when a team’s ready to play, and because of the circumstances that we faced during fall camp, I knew we wasn’t ready to play a game at a high level. But we actually played better in spurts than I was afraid that we would, and then there was times that we didn’t sustain.
“We had a couple of guys out tonight. Hopefully we’ll get these guys back, but it’s encouraging that our guys continue to find a way. Can’t say enough about it.”
ON DEANDRE JOHNSON
“Deandre over the last, really the last year, you really see a young man that is maturing. Not only on the field, but off the field. He wanted to come back and move back into the dorm for his last year. It’s his third year in the system, so he knows what to do, he’s a smart guy. He’s a competitor. He plays with confidence. I don’t know what kind of numbers he had tonight but it seemed like he was in on a lot of plays. You know, he’s got a lot of really good football ahead of him.”
ON JARRETT GUARANTANO
“Inconsistent. He made some really … his decision-making was good. I think there were a couple times, maybe, he was confused a little bit. His decision making was good. I know he would like to have some throws back. He was high on some throws. But you know what, we ain’t had hardly any wide receivers practice for a long time. We’ve got them back for the last five days. Hopefully we can clean some of this up and get our timing better for next week.”
ON PRODUCTION FROM OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS — TYLER BARON, KIVON BENNETT AND DEANDRE JOHNSON
“We’ve got other guys, too. Those three guys played pretty well, I guess. Roman Harrison is a guy there, JJ Peterson, Morven Joseph. There are some guys there that have ability. I think Coach (Shelton) Felton has really poured into these guys. With the exception of Deandre and Kivon, the rest of them haven’t played hardly any major college football. So they’re going to continue to improve. I believe they’ll work hard to do that.”
ON THE OVERALL DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE
“Well, we didn’t get off the field on third down on that one drive there. That first drive. You have to give them credit. If y’all noticed tonight we played Bryce (Thompson) at safety. Warren Burrell and Jaylen McCollough have been out. They’ve only practiced a few days. Shawn Shamburger didn’t make the trip. So we were piecing it together there a little bit. Knew that coming in. But we were inconsistent. We had a chance to put our foot on (their) throat and we didn’t. Have to give them credit. We’ve got to quit making mistakes. We have to do a better job coaching. That’s on me. We’ll coach them up better hopefully between now and next week.”
ON VELUS JONES JR.
“Velus is a guy that, he’s really strong. He’s got a good core, good quickness. Had a lot of success in the return game out at USC. Something we feel like he could help up with here. (He’s) a guy that we’ve got to get the ball to more. And we had several young wide receivers that didn’t get any touches much tonight. Those guys, as they continue to learn the offense, most of those guys have missed a lot of practice. As they continue to learn the offense, they’ll get a chance to get them some touches.”
ON LINEBACKER PLAY AS A WHOLE
“It’s hard to look at every position, right? So I’d hate to really comment on how somebody played until I watch the tape. I feel like we’ve got four guys in there, with Henry (To’o To’o) and Q (Quavaris Crouch) and Jeremy Banks and Aaron Beasley, that can give us some minutes in there. We’ve got to be more consistent there. We made some mistakes there, which we knew we would. These guys will continue to improve and get better.”
ON THE BOTCHED SNAP ON THE PUNT IN THE FIRST QUARTER
“I think I told you guys back in camp, it was either the first four or five days we didn’t even do special teams. Because all of the specialists were in quarantine. And then when they all got back, half our team was in quarantine, so we couldn’t really cover kicks. That’s no excuse for not repping. I mean, we were repping the stuff, we just didn’t get the work there that we need. Hey, Will Albright, we think is one of the best long snappers in the country, ok? He made a mistake. I promise you when he woke up this morning he didn’t walk out there and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to roll the snap back there.’ That just happens, right? When I woke up this morning I didn’t want to call a call that Mike Bobo got me on by throwing the ball to the back down there in the red area, that resulted into a (bad) call. I wish I had that one back. So we all make mistakes. And Will is going to be a great player for us.”
ON WINNING THE GAME AFTER FACING SOME ADVERSITY
“I’m tickled that they found a way. There’s lots of things that we can work on and improve. I’m sure there’s lots of things that we probably did well. But the bottom line is we’re leaving Columbia with a ‘W’ and that’s what we came here for.”
ON WINNING SEVEN IN A ROW, FIND WAYS TO WIN LATE IN GAMES
“I think they believe. They believe in each other. They believe in our program. They believe in our culture. I mean, it’s not easy in this league. We’re not going to complain about winning a football game, I can tell you that. We’re going to celebrate winning one. On the road in this league, it’s hard to do. So we’re going to celebrate and go back and fix what we can fix tomorrow. Take Monday off and go to work on Missouri on Tuesday.”
ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE
“The offensive line, there was times that we opened up some really good holes. There were times we got really good protection. But there were a few times that we didn’t. So everywhere on our football team can really improve and we’ve got to work hard to do that.”
ON CADE MAYS NOT GETTING A RULING FROM THE SEC
“The situation with Cade has obviously been frustrating with me. I’m frustrated for Cade. I’m frustrated for a lot of kids that maybe are having to sit out this year. I mean, the things that these young men go through right now. And Cade was one of the guys that, when we had all of the unknowns, came back and tried to persevere and find a way. It was frustrating. My grandmother used to always say if ain’t got something nice to say, don’t say nothing at all. So I’m just not going to say anything else.”
ON ELIJAH SIMMONS
“Well, you know, most of the times when I notice Elijah is when he’s coming through the lunch line. Me and him usually have the two biggest plates. But he’s a guy that has worked really hard. When he got here this summer he weighed 370 pounds. Think he played tonight at 343. So that tells you a little bit about him. I think he’s got a lot of upside. Smart kid. Really good student. Football is important to him. Has a smile on his face all the time. And he might be the best singer in the whole state of Tennessee.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.