This year, the Spring Game was going to be different. Pruitt claimed quickly that it would be strength against strength with the best on the defense going against the best the offense had to offer.
With a bevy of position changes, early enrollees and new schemes, there were a lot of changes to analyze in Pruitt’s first action in Neyland Stadium.
Here are some of the main takeaways from the Orange and White game, which was won 34-7 by the orange.
Last season, Jarrett Guarantano didn’t take many downfield shots. He was very careful with his decision making, resulting sometimes in him being too careful and a lack of aggression.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday, as Guarantano took shot-after-shot at the first team defense, and he connected on several of them. He finished the game 15-of-27 with two touchdown passes and 226 yards.
Will McBride struggles, shows signs:
Early in the game, Will McBride unloaded a deep ball to Jordan Murphy down the middle of the field that may have been the prettiest pass of the game. The ball landed just out of the reach of Murphy as he dived full extension to try and make the play.
After that pass, there weren’t many more pretty passes, as McBride finished the game 6-of-18 with 71 yards passing against the second team defense. McBride did have a 35-yard touchdown pass to Latrell Williams that highlighted his effort, but he also threw two interceptions.
If the spring game is any indicator, the fall is setting up to be a battle between graduate transfer Keller Chryst and Guarantano. Guarantano took all first-team reps in the game.
However, Pruitt was quick to remind people that this wasn’t the first time he has evaluated his quarterbacks.
“You look at one day’s work out there that’s not a true indication of how spring actually went,” Pruitt said. “We’ll know who our quarterback is probably when we go to Charlotte halfway through the fourth quarter.”
Defense backs show promise:
While Guarantano had reasonable success against the first team defense, there were some promising plays being made.
In particular, cornerback Marquill Osborne showed the ability to blanket receivers, as he broke up two deep passes down the field and added a crucial break up late in the game.
On the second team, a familiar name from fall camp also made an impressive play. Theo Jackson was one of the most praised freshman defenders on the team last season, and he made the biggest defensive play on the evening.
Jackson intercepted a pass and returned it 49 yards to set up a touchdown by the orange team.
Simple, but improved play-calling:
Yes, it was just the spring game, but offensive coordinator Tyson Helton seemed to mix up the play calling just enough to keep the defense off balance.
The offense was under center more than last season, as they showed that physicality that Pruitt wants. They also ran many plays from the shotgun, showing a diverse set of plays.
While the sets were different from what fans have seen in the past, they’ll have much more to offer offensively in the fall.
Offense looks ahead of the defense:
Guarantano’s success wasn’t the only success on the offensive side of the ball against the defense.
The Vols running backs and receivers each made several big plays to contribute to the big showing. Running backs Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler combined for 110 yards rushing on 20 carries, and four receivers and tight end Eli Wolf had two or more catches.
Marquez Callaway continued to show his ability to get the jump ball as he brought in a two-yard touchdown pass early in the game. Brandon Johnson also added two catches for 34 yards. Josh Palmer had the biggest day of the receivers, hauling in three catches for 77 yards to lead the way.
“All three of those guys do have length, enough speed and they judge the ball,” Pruitt said. “Quarterback’s are going to have to do a better job of giving them a chance.”
Eli Wolfe received the award for most improved offensive player and Kyle Phillips received the award for most improved defensive player.
Guarantano was named MVP of the Spring Game, as the Vols will now look to finish the semester strong academically and take some time away from the gridiron before summer workouts.
Overall, the spring game performance didn’t impress Pruitt, and he’s putting players on notice.
“We have to figure out where we’re at with some of these guys,” Pruitt said. “The good thing is in a couple of weeks we’ll have a bunch of guys that aren’t on the injury report anymore. We’ll have fourteen new guys here and maybe more. Some of these guys that don’t want to do it and don’t want to do it right all the time, they’ll just be watching.”