ATHENS — Jeremy Pruitt has a pretty good idea of what Georgia football is all about, having coached alongside Kirby Smart at Alabama and served as the Bulldogs defensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015.
Pruitt, in his first season as Tennessee’s head coach, had lots of positive things to say about Georgia at his Monday press conference in Knoxville.
“I see a physical football team, [and] they are big up front,” Pruitt said. “I thought Jake Fromm was the most efficient quarterback that we played against last year. He is very accurate, he is like a coach on the field, he has command, and he keeps them out of bad plays and even puts them in good plays.”
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) play host to the Vols (2-2, 0-1) at 3:30 p.m. at Sanford Stadium (TV: CBS; Radio: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM).
The most recent time Pruitt faced Georgia was as Alabama’s defensive coordinator in the College Football Playoff title game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last January.
Fromm was 16-of-32 passing for 232 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the 26-23 loss to the Crimson Tide.
The Georgia sophomore quarterback is off to a strong start this season, second in the SEC with a 199.67 QB Rating, trailing only Alabama Heisman Trophy candidate Tua Tagovailoa.
The Bulldogs rank sixth in the SEC and 33rd in the nation in total offense, averaging 477.5 yards per game.
Speedy receiver Mecole Hardman might be the Bulldogs’ best bet for Heisman consideration at this stage of the season with 247 yards receiving and four touchdowns on 14 catches through four games, in addition to a punt return for a TD.
“They have really good receivers on the outside,” Pruitt said. “They have good runners and good tight ends. Offensively, they are one of the best teams in the country.”
The Bulldogs’ defense ranks third in the SEC and 12th in the country, allowing 292.3 yards per game.
“Defensively, they have big men up front, linebackers that can run, guys that rush the quarterback, guys who can deny the ball in the back end,” Pruitt said. “Kirby and Mel Tucker have always done a good job at creating different looks that give you problems. They are really good at special teams because they have speed. They have a great football team, and they are really well coached.”
Tucker, in addition to Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, joined Pruitt as a finalist for the Tennessee head coaching job last December. All three interviewed in person with Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer.
Fulmer hired Pruitt just six days after being hired himself and has said there’s enough talent for the Vols to be competitive immediately.
One of the key players is dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Guaranto, who was knocked out of the 47-21 loss to Florida last Saturday.
“Jarrett got banged up a little bit, but I said when I first took the job that Jarrett is a tough guy,” Pruitt said. “I saw him yesterday throwing balls and dropping in the indoor facility. I think a lot of our guys are itching to get going again, which is a good thing. You always wonder how people are going to respond when you don’t play at your best.
“It’s hard to have a lot of success when you have six turnovers.”
Smart said that in terms of game planning, he didn’t see much difference between Guarantano and Tennessee’s No. 2 quarterback, Stanford transfer Keller Chryst.
“I think [Guarantano] has the ability to take off running, now Chryst has had some runs as well,” Smart said, “and he’s done some whether it’s by design or by accident, a couple of times he’s had to run it. They’re both capable of doing that.
“We don’t see a whole lot of difference in the two of those guys and what they’ll do with those guys.”
Pruitt said he sees a lot of Kirby Smart’s influence in the Georgia football team, all over the field.
“We worked together for six years, [and] Kirby is a really good football coach, he is a very hard worker and focuses on the detail,” Pruitt said. “He is a good coach on the field. He is a good scheme guy, and it’s not just defensively. He is involved in special teams, and he’s involved in offense. You can see all of that in their football program.”