Tennessee football firing Jimmy Brumbaugh wreaks of blame deflecting

Jeremy Pruitt fired Tennessee football Volunteers assistant Jimmy Brumbaugh.

Four straight turnovers, including two pick-sixes, dug Tennessee football into a 17-0 hole against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Vols were then unable to stop the short slant routes in the second half, which allowed Kentucky to turn it into a 34-7 blowout win.

After all of that, Jeremy Pruitt’s response was to part ways with his defensive line coach? Yes, that’s what happened on Monday. In explaining his decision in his weekly press conference, Pruitt said there were philosophical differences between the two.

Sorry, but none of this makes sense. Tennessee football brought in Brumbaugh after letting Tracy Rocker walk. Wouldn’t Pruitt make sure that there were no philosophical differences between him and Rocker’s replacement? Isn’t that something he’d know before bringing him on board?

It’s not like Brumbaugh is new to the coaching game. He spend four years with Mark Stoops and this  very Kentucky team from 2013 to 2016, and Pruitt was in the SEC from 2014 to 2016. Brumbaugh also worked under Mel Tucker with the Colorado Buffaloes, and Tucker spent one year with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Pruitt should be familiar with him.

That’s the obvious point. However, the data is another obvious point. Literally none of Tennessee football’s issues have to do with the defensive line the past two games. In fact, the defensive line probably deserves less blame than most of the units.

According to Football Outsiders, UT’s defensive line is in the top 25 of every advanced stat except two. They are No. 21 in fewest line yards allowed per carry, No. 2 in passing down line yards allowed per carry, No. 10 in opportunity rate and No. 18 in power success rate, No. 19 in stuff rate and No. 8 in passing down sacks rate.

Does anybody remember what happened against the Georgia Bulldogs? UT stuffed UGA on a 4th and 1 and then on a 3rd and goal and 4th and goal in the first half, which is why they had the 21-17 halftime lead. That lead evaporated after two straight offensive turnovers in the second half, a busted coverage in the secondary and a third turnover that was returned for a touchdown.

How is any of that on the defensive line? What metrics could Pruitt use to say that the defensive line is the problem? Well, he tried. As we said, the Vols’ issues come down to turnovers and the inability to cover quick slants. Pruitt’s explanation on Monday was that by not getting enough of a push up front, the line isn’t doing enough to block those open routes on quick slants.

Let’s accept that idea for a second. Maybe the defensive line can be responsible for clouding the quarterback’s vision on such plays. Well, you have to just go back to the Football Outsiders data, which, as we noted, has the Vols at No. 27 in sacks rate, and as we noted, No. 8 in passing down sacks rate. The Vols were getting pressure on passing downs, so this simply isn’t true.

Taking all of this into account, we have to call this what it looks like: Blame deflecting. Brumbaugh looks like he is the easiest target, and that’s unfair. Could the defensive line play better? Yes. Does this mean that Brumbaugh is the best coach out there? No.

However, citing philosophical differences is not a legitimate excuse when he should have known about that before he brought Brumbaugh on board. Data points to the fact that it isn’t Brumbaugh’s fault either.

Pruitt, to be fair, touted Brumbaugh’s knowledge and said it truly was just this philosophical difference. Even if that was the case, though, it still looks like he made this move to absolve himself of the blame for Tennessee football’s struggles. The defensive line didn’t turn it over seven times in the second half of one game and the first half of another.