KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Coming in, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said he thought Nick Saban might have his best team yet at Alabama.
Following the 58-21 loss at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, it didn't sound like his opinion had changed:
“First off, they have a really good football team, obviously. (They have) lots of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball… really stretch you sideline-to-sideline. They can run. Just like I said in the press conference earlier in the week, these guys can line up and run the ball. If you’re going to play these guys, you have to be able to deny the ball. You have to be able to have enough guys in the box to stop the run. You have to be able to play man-to-man. We struggled to do that. Defense gave them multiple looks, but we didn’t block them up front. You’re not going to beat anyone if you can’t run the football and if you’re one-dimensional. Going into it, we knew that we would have to play a perfect game to have a chance to beat them, but what I wanted to see was I wanted to see our guys compete and play hard and keep improving. There’s a lot of guys on our team who did. The unfortunate part is if you have some guys who don’t, it really doesn’t show up in the game. I think we learned a lot about our football team today. There are some guys we had on our team that this game was way too big for them, and I think everyone was able to see that. It helps us, and we’ll move on with it. We play a good football team next week, so we have to go back to work tomorrow and get ready for South Carolina.”
On if Keller Chryst coming in for Jarrett Guarantano was completely injury related:
“Jarrett (Guarantano) got hit I don’t know how many times, probably every time he threw the football. Keller came in and made some good throws, so we just stayed with Keller.”
On the message he gave the team on recruiting players:
“We’ve got guys in our program in 10 months that have really changed the way they think. They’ve changed the way they go about business every single day. They’ve worked hard, and they’ve tried to do exactly what we’ve wanted them to do. I don’t think it takes much to look… if you look at their sideline and look at our sideline, they hardly look the same. But we do have some guys on our team who are committed to the University of Tennessee and are doing it the right way. They’ve got to help us recruit, because we didn’t have enough guys out there today who wanted to do it the right way. But I do think we have a good core group in this bunch who will be the foundation moving forward, and we’ve got a group of guys in here who want to compete and play like they do everyday.”
On why he thinks the team struggles with running the ball:
“(Is it the offensive line?) The last two weeks, yeah. They’re bigger and stronger. Could we play with better technique? I’m sure we could. Could we possibly have them in a better scheme? Probably. The last two teams whipped us up front. You have to be committed to doing it as a play caller on offense. Every time offense got the ball today, we were down seven or more points. So it kind of goes hand-in-hand.”
On if Guarantano’s injury is serious:
“No, he’ll be back.”
On examples of guys not playing the right way:
“When you’ve got guys man-to-man when they run down the field, and you don’t even guard them. When you can’t keep your poise enough to look to the sideline and get the defensive call, that’s pretty elementary. I don’t know about the offensive side as far as that part of it, but just from the defensive side, it’s pretty telling. I know their signals; I watched their calls. They kind of made the same calls we made, just watching them over there. You call a corner blitz, and we tippy-toe in there and nobody blocks us, and they throw a 50-yard touchdown. I bet you when they call a corner blitz, I bet you their corner didn’t tippy-toe up in there.”
On the explanation of Alontae Taylor’s ejection and the after the whistle penalties:
“I think a lot of it is poise and experience. Alontae punched the guy. He punched the guy in the head, right in front of me. I saw him do it. If you just look at the whole deal, they lined up and whipped us between the whistles the whole time, and we made silly mistakes, and that’s my fault. I have to do a better job of getting them to do it the right way.”
On the way Keller Chryst played:
“We gave them some unusual looks, probably that they hadn’t seen, so that probably had something to do with it. Guys had a little bit of protection and he threw the ball down there and made some plays, but we can’t be one dimensional. We have to be able to run the football to give our offense a chance.”
On the differences between this year’s Alabama team and last year’s:
“I don’t think that’s fair to judge, because things change every week. But, they’re very good offensively. They’ve got big men up front. They’ve got good tight ends, they’ve got a trigger-puller, and they’re explosive at wide receiver. It’s like I said, you have to be able to deny the ball. If you’re even with them in the box, they’re going to beat you in the run game. If you play them one-on-one, they’re going to try to throw their RPO (run-pass-option) stuff. So, you have to be able to deny the ball. You should play them man-to-man in my opinion.”
On how long it is going to take to compete with Alabama for all four quarters:
“You know what, we have four seniors that are playing on our football team right now. So, we have a lot of guys that are trying to do it the right way. Unfortunately, we’ve got some guys out right now. We’re thin at a few spots, and when you start going down the order, it showed today. So, you really couldn’t tell how some guys played and how they competed based off of us being thin at other spots. So, I think we can sign 25 guys in here and basically trade 25 for four. We’ve got some really good seniors that work hard, but we’ve really got four that are playing a lot, so it gives you a chance.”
On the lack of pressure from the defensive line:
“They got the ball out of their hand. When we got there, we couldn’t get the quarterbacks on the ground. When the quarterback pulls the ball down, which Jalen Hurts does, and he runs for 35 yards, we look like we’re in slow motion and he walks into the end zone… that’s what it looks like to me. You have to keep a guy like that in front.
On the effort Kyle Phillips’ effort on his pick-six:
“We had a goal to try to win the second half. We go out there and Ty Chandler can’t fair catch the opening kickoff. And Ty is a really good competitor that tries to do everything that we ask him to do. There’s lot of guys that try to do it the right way, but they’re not always going to be perfect, and Ty made the wrong decision there. Then we step on the quarterback’s foot and get a safety, so it was really a bad start to the second half. Kyle (Phillips) has been trying really hard and has ever since we’ve been here. Kyle, Alexis Johnson, Paul Bain and Shy Tuttle are really the five guys are the seniors playing on the defensive side right now and really the only seniors playing. I think Todd Kelly Jr. played some today. They’ve tried to do it the right way and bought in ever since we’ve been here.”
On Alabama’s fast starts:
“I think they do a really good job of mixing up what they’re doing. But all good teams have tendencies, so they do a really good job executing it.”
On the types of pressures that Alabama brought:
“I didn’t see them bring a lot of pressure. They brought some five-man deals. On the fumble down there — the first third down — I don’t know what pressure it was, I think just a five-man. A lot of it (was) we had seven guys blocking four, and our quarterback still got hit. Either we didn’t play with good technique and block them, or they whipped us. One of the two.”
On how he expects the team to respond to today’s loss:
“That’s really yet to be determined, we’ll see what they do on Monday. I think our guys have kind of turned a corner in how they practice and compete. But it takes more than seven on defense and five on offense. It takes 11 guys. You might have guys trying to do it the right way, but maybe they don’t execute — or maybe today, that wasn’t good enough. So we have to continue to work hard and improve."
Senior defensive lineman Kyle Phillips
On his interception returned for a touchdown:
"Obviously, for a defensive lineman it's not often you get a pick-six. It was very exciting for sure, but I'm disappointed in how the game turned out."
On looking forward after the loss to Alabama:
"We still have some games left to play, and in my eyes, it's my last year, so we're ready to compete and play the rest of these games -- hopefully win out. The ball gets tossed every Saturday, and it's our job to practice so it will translate on Saturday's."
On how this Alabama team compares to previous teams he's faced and how Tennessee can is looking up as a program:
"They're a great team, I have to give them their props. They're great offensively, defensively, special teams. They play hard, they execute very well. They're a tough team to beat for sure, and that's what we're trying to get towards as a program. It's up to me, in my last couple games as a senior, to lead the way for these young guys and for them to know that we can be that at the University of Tennessee. We are a top-tier program, and we will be back."
Redshirt junior Linebacker Darrin Kirkland
On coming out faster in games:
"It's all about how we execute in practice. We have to start practice fast, and throughout the week we have to come out with the mindset that we have to open up the game fast. I feel like everything start's with practice when it comes to executing at a high level early on in the game."
On executing during games:
"As a defense we have to go out there and execute. Their offense is very explosive, and we knew that going into the game. We prepared well, but we just have to get on the field and execute as a defense on all three levels. We have to go out there and compete to the best of our abilities, especially against an opponent like Alabama."