ATHENS — Three Georgia players who were coached by Jeremy Pruitt have their own expectations for what Tennessee football will bring to Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
Bulldogs’ senior Lamont Gaillard might be the best center in the SEC, but he began his career as a defensive lineman on a Pruitt-led unit.
“He’s hard, just like Kirby Smart , and that’s what we needed as a coach,” said Gaillard, the most seasoned Georgia player with 32 consecutive starts.
“They are both up, they are both always in your faces, nothing is going to change, that’s just them, and they both know how to win championships, so I’m sure it’s going to be a good game this weekend.”
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) play host to the Vols (2-2, 0-1) at 3:30 p.m. (TV: CBS, Radio: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM).
Pruitt worked as Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator at Georgia in 2014 and 2015. The Bulldogs ranked 45th in the nation in total defense in 2014 (375.5 yards per game), and improved to 17th in 2015 (337.2).
Pruitt was 1-1 against Tennessee as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator.
Georgia won 35-32 in 2014, Pruitt’s defense holding the Vols to 401 yards and turning back a late rally. Tennessee won 38-31 in 2015 when Alpharetta’s Josh Dobbs rallied from 24-3 down and the Butch Jones-coached Vols totaled 519 yards of offense.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who worked alongside Pruitt at Alabama from 2007-2012, opened the week alerting his players that Tennessee would bring a physical attack.
“Jeremy is doing a good job there, and certainly being a physical football team you can see that identity created and what they’re trying to create and how they run the ball and what they do,” Smart said.
“I think that’s important in building a good program, and they’re certainly on the right track when it comes to the physicality they’re trying to do things with on both sides of the ball.”
Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray stirred controversy last summer, questioning Pruitt as a head coach.
But Georgia linebackers Natrez Patrick and Juwan Taylor clearly respect Pruitt and said they know exactly what he brings to Tennessee.
It’s the same thing Pruitt brought as a walk-on defensive back at Alabama under hall of fame coach Gene Stallings, and the same thing Vols hall of fame coach Phillip Fulmer took note of when interviewing Pruitt for the Tennessee job.
“Great coach, players’ coach, always stuck up for his guys, knew his defenses really well, that’s the impression I got from him,” Patrick said. “It’s exciting to play against him. I just know he’s gonna get those guys ready to play, and when you have a coach like that guys don’t mind playing for him.
“He preached physical toughness a lot.”
“He’s a great coach, him and Coach Smart, it’s similar what they expect out of us, the physicality and playing with toughness,” Taylor said. “It was a sad day [when Pruitt left,] but we were happy for him that he got an opportunity.”
Now, Patrick said, the Bulldogs have to brace for battle knowing that Pruitt will have the Vols ready to compete.
“He’s able to get everybody ready for any game, so you have to go into it with that mentality,” Patrick said. “We’re coming here to win, it’s not a game off, we’re not worried about records or wins and losses, we’re coming in here to play.
“It will be interesting, guys come and go, guys get promotions, guys get other opportunities and go their separate ways, it’s nothing personal, it’s see you on the flip side, but now you’re not with me, you’re against me.”
DawgNation: Georgia football vs. Tennessee