UT vs. Georgia State University
Jordan Allen, #8, rushes with the ball in hand during the Georgia State football game on August 31, 2019 in Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt has been no stranger to scrutiny over the past five days.

Whether it be from fans or the media, the Vols’ leading man has heard his fair share of criticism since UT’s loss to Georgia State on Saturday. For better or worse, he’s taken it in stride and kept the team’s focus fixated on the task at hand.

“Everybody has gone back to work. It wasn’t like we went into last week and didn’t have good practices, we’ve had good practices all camp,” Pruitt said. “I’m talking about effort, trying to do it the right way.”

Indeed Tennessee will be looking to do things the right way as perhaps its biggest matchup of the season looms.

While it seems unfathomable to think that the Vols’ biggest game of the year comes against a non-conference opponent, their performance on Saturday has already put their season at risk despite lofty expectations.

Their head coach is well aware and has looked to correct that in practice this week. Pruitt’s only hope is that that effort will carry over.

“We didn’t have good execution on game day, and that’s where it counts,” Pruitt said. “It’s those 60 minutes, so it’s what we got to do. We’ve got to take it from the practice field to the game field.”

Those 60 minutes were the difference between what could have been an emphatic season-opening win and what is now the most embarrassing start to a UT football season in decades.

For the young players, it provided an opportunity to grow both on the field and in the locker room, something Pruitt feels has been lacking despite the work ethic displayed throughout fall camp.

“It comes with continuing to coach them up and developing them as football players,” Pruitt said. “These guys are working hard.”

With hard work comes tough conversations, and all players were the subject of that following Saturday’s loss. None of those conversations came by way of the coaching staff, however.

Instead, a players-only meeting was held, something Pruitt praised on Wednesday when addressing the media.

“It’s their team. If you’re invested in something and you have passion about something, you confront people,” Pruitt said. “That’s what leaders do. So that’s good to see.”

At the forefront of that meeting was Jauan Jennings.

The redshirt senior receiver, after declaring himself the leader of the team on Tuesday, continues to back up his claims on the practice field.

Much to the delight of Pruitt, the same passion for the game that Jennings displayed when he arrived in Knoxville has spearheaded the Vols’ efforts in training this week. Only this time, there is much more at stake.

“The guy (Jauan) just really loves ball, he really loves ball. He loves to practice, loves to compete,” Pruitt said. “(We) usually have to slow him down at practice.”

As Tennessee’s matchup with BYU steadily approaches, it will certainly be looking to right the ship before SEC play commences.

Luckily for the Vols, they have plenty of time to work before that.

“Our guys are kind of sticking their noses to the ground and going at it as hard as they can,” Pruitt said. “That’s what they’ve got to do, and that’s what everybody’s got to do.”

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