On a beautiful sunny Saturday, Tennessee made its triumphant return to Neyland Stadium in front of the fans to participate in the annual Orange and White Spring Game.
The Orange Team dominated the White team, following an offensive tide on the way to a 34-7 win.
In the weeks leading up to the spectacle, head coach Jeremy Pruitt reinforced that he wanted his players to get a real game feel from the scrimmage. He wanted the fans in Neyland to create an electric atmosphere, like the players will experience in the fall, so he could measure how players respond. The fans met their side of the bargain, with an officially announced crowd of 65,098.
Pruitt was less than pleased with his team’s showing.
“The big thing out there today is you see some guys competing hard, they may not be doing things perfect, but they’re headed in the right direction,” Pruitt said. Then I saw a couple of guys out there today that just quit.”
Pruitt has made his name as a defensive coach. He has been the defensive coordinator for college football giants, such as Alabama and Georgia. Given his background, one would expect Tennessee’s defense to show out.
Ironically, Tennessee’s first team offense, under first year offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, had a nearly dominant day.
Sophomore Jarrett Guarantano started at quarterback for the Orange team. He made a day of carving up the White team, throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns on his way to earning MVP of the Orange and White game.
It took Guarantano a while to heat up. After throwing two straight incompletions on the very first drive in the first quarter, he followed it up with a nice jump-ball in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown strike to Marquez Callaway for the first points of the game.
Pruitt was still mum on giving details about the progress of his quarterbacks.
“Well, when you look at one day’s work out there, that’s not really a true indication of how spring went.” Pruitt said.
Scoring would come at a premium for a while, with the only points in over 10 minutes coming off of a Brent Cimaglia field goal to start the second quarter. Tim Jordan would change that.
After busting off a 29-yard run in which he broke a couple of would-be tacklers, Jordan bounced a short five yard run outside to the house, giving the Orange team a 17-0 lead. Jordan had a nice day, rumbling to 57 yards on nine carries.
Ty Chandler further extended the Orange lead in the third quarter, plunging in a one-yard touchdown to make it 27-0.
Luckily for the White team, Latrell Williams was able to take a slant pass from Will McBride 35 yards to the Checkerboards to give the White team its first points in the fourth quarter.
With just over four minutes left and a running clock, one would assume the Orange team would just try to run the clock out and claim victory. This was not the case, as Guarantano capped off a long drive with a 29-yard strike to tight end Eli Wolf for a touchdown.
Despite the poor showing by Tennessee’s first team defense, allowing 360 total yards, the second team defensive players showed out.
Not only did they allow just 85 total yards, including 14 rushing, they were able to intercept McBride on two occasions. The first, a Theo Jackson interception, was off of a deflected pass.
The second came from linebacker Shanon Reid, a young player touted for his athleticism, who sprinted a good portion of the field to snatch a floating pass from a receiver’s hands. Orange’s secondary, a position that has been in question for the Vols, held McBride to just 6-of-18 passing for 71 yards.
Even with some solid individual performances in Saturday’s contest, Pruitt believes Tennessee still has a very long road to travel before they reach a solid point.
“I think if you looked at it after 15 days, I’d say we’d probably get about a ‘D’, if you looked at it from a grade,” Pruitt said. “It would be about a ‘D’.”