ATHENS — Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt was so impressed with the fight in his team at Georgia that he grew emotional, unable to speak for several seconds.
Coming from a tough, grizzled guy like Pruitt, it caught some off guard.
But then, so did the Vols’ back-to-back touchdowns in the third quarter that cut Georgia’s lead to 24-12.
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) went on to beat Tennessee 38-12, but not before the Vols impressed their new head coach.
“I can tell you this, the people on both sides of the field today, they know they were in a football game,” Pruitt said. “We made the right step in the right direction, as far as building our program.”
Pruitt, who served as Georgia’s defensive coordinator under former coach Mark Richt in 2014 and 2015, made it clear he has great respect for the Bulldogs, having recruited some of the current players.
“Georgia’s got a really good football team, they’re very sound, they’re good on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Pruitt said. “They have speed, skilled positions on both sides, have a very good quarterback, two really good quarterbacks, good runners, their tight ends are physical, they can also get out on the perimeter, got good linebackers, got guys that can rush the quarterback, got guys that can play man-to-man in the backend.
“So, when you take the culmination of those types of athletes, it makes you good on special teams.”
And, as Kirby Smart predicted, the Bulldogs would need to come out prepared for a physical football game.
Pruitt said the team in orange made sure Georgia got all it wanted in that sense.
“Let me tell you something, that team in red today tried to change the way we fought,” Pruitt said. “That’s the way they’re coached, that’s the way they play. They play the right way.
“Our guys kept fighting which means we’re headed in the right direction and that excites me. That’s why I’m getting a little bit emotional.”
Pruitt said Georgia’s touchdown drive in the second quarter was key, as it gave the Bulldogs a 17-0 halftime edge.
“We had an opportunity right there before the half to keep them out of the end zone, and we didn’t. You got to give Georgia credit, they just pounded us right there,” Pruitt said. “Then our offense got started in the second half. Cut the game to 24-12, and Georgia does what a good football team [should] and they put a drive together, and we didn’t have an answer for them.”
Pruitt said he learned Tennessee has some heart from the way it battled the Bulldogs.
“I learned we’ve got fight in us, that we’re not going to quit, it kind of gets me excited,” Pruitt said. “You know these guys on this team have had a lot of negatives go toward them for a long time. I’m proud of them and the way they fought. … It isn’t easy.”
The Vols are off next weekend before traveling to play Auburn and playing host to Alabama.
Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt