3. Players got meaningful reps late in the game.
What more could you ask for early on in the season? Tennessee football has a very young team, and Jeremy Pruitt is turning to lots of freshmen from a top 12 recruiting class to help turn around Rocky Top in his second year on the job.
Well, to do that, the players need in-game experience. By not blowing out the Georgia State Panthers, that’s exactly what they got Saturday. While many teams pulled their starters early, Jarrett Guarantano got more work with the offensive line and developed more of a rapport with his wide receivers.
Meanwhile, the defense was loaded with newcomers. Although they played horribly, they at least got into rhythm by playing all four quarters. Butch Jones was wrecked for saying leadership reps back in the day. Pruitt has been praised for emphasizing that everybody needs real reps.
What better way to get real reps than having to play your guys late in a game against a Sun Belt school that was 2-10 last year? Most SEC programs would pull their starters at halftime in those games. They would be up by so much they couldn’t justify leaving them in. It would be considered running up the score. Not the Vols.
Instead, UT’s starters and even second-teamers got incredibly valuable in-game experience. Coaches always say there’s no substitute for experience playing in the game, and that’s exactly what Pruitt’s key players got Saturday. This is something that hurts now, but it should pay off in the long run. It’s one of the most brilliant strategies ever.