Ahead of Tennessee football’s matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Jeremy Pruitt joked about a way to win. The Volunteers should follow through with it.
Kevin Kelley is the head coach. Pulaski Academy is the school. Little Rock, Ark. is the location. And Tennessee football should adopt exactly what he does when they face the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
Earlier this week, Jeremy Pruitt mentioned Kelley’s coaching style as a way to beat Alabama. Kelley is known for never punting and always doing onside kicks. It was a joke, but honestly, Pruitt should follow through with it.
Punting has already long been an overused play in the sport of football. Benjamin Norris, who eventually became a writer at FiveThirtyEight, broke down on an old website, Skeptical Sports Analysis, how overused it is on this page.
Basically, he figured out that a punt is a turnover too. So when a team says they can’t turn the ball over, a punt is literally a turnover. You’re giving the ball to the other team. That doesn’t mean you never punt, but you have to acknowledge what it is.
Now it’s fair to throw field position out there. I’ll throw back the question, what does field position matter when you’re facing an offense led by Tua Tagovailoa? Seriously. It’s meaningless, and Tennessee football’s best chance to beat the Tide is to never give them the ball.
So they might as well go for it every time. Meanwhile, they haven’t yet recovered an onside kick in the Pruitt era. But they have come close. And since field position doesn’t matter, they might as well try it every time.
This is especially true with the new return rules. Since fair catches and touchbacks automatically spot offense the ball on the 25-yard line, teams should be onside kicking it every time. Doesn’t the reward of recovering one of them outweigh the risk of spotting offenses the ball 15 yards past where they would originally spot it?
It should be noted that there is historical precedence for trickery and unconventional play in this series. Back in 1904, Tennessee football got its first win against Alabama. They entered that game 2-5-1 while Alabama was 4-2 and would eventually finish 7-3. And the game was in Birmingham.
How did the Vols win? The Chicago Tribune has the story of a major loophole they found to trick what were then the Alabama Crimson White. Keep an eye on that word, “loop.” UT fullback Sam McAllester were a leather belt with handles sewn on either side in the game, and they were basically wide loops.
UT scored a touchdown by giving the ball to McAllester every play on one drive. He would take the ball, run up to just behind the offensive line, and then the other two backs would pick him up, using those loops, and throw him over the line. Every play was a significant enough gain to keep the drive alive, and the Vols scored a touchdown, completing a 50-yard drive.
It was the only score of the game for either team, and that’s how the Vols pulled off the upset. That sort of trickery makes history. Pruitt has a chance to rewrite history himself and help people rethink the sport as a whole if he adopts Kelley’s game plan on Saturday. Tennessee football could become a legendary program, even if they still lose in a blowout in the process.