Tennessee football: Jeremy Pruitt coaching like he has Alabama talent. He doesn’t.

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - NOVEMBER 09: Jeremy Pruitt the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers in the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - NOVEMBER 09: Jeremy Pruitt the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers in the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on November 09, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Tennessee football Volunteers coaches need to stop acting like they have elite talent.

Let’s be honest. Jeremy Pruitt is coaching Tennessee football like he’s Nick Saban coaching the Alabama Crimson Tide. The frustrating lack of urgency at handling the quarterback situation, the lack of creativity on offense and believing that just some mistakes need to be corrected to win are all predicated on the idea that he has the most talented team in the SEC. He doesn’t.

There’s an old theory that the Jimmys and Joes outweigh the X’s and O’s. Phillip Fulmer lived by it, and it made sense when he was head coach in his prime. UT consistently had the best recruiting classes in the nation, churned out more NFL talent than anybody in the SEC and was one of only two consistent powerhouse programs in the league.

That’s not the case now. Tennessee football hasn’t had a top five class since 2015. The SEC is much more loaded. Not one player on this year’s team was part of a Vols recruiting class that finished any better than fifth in the SEC or third in the East.

Simply put, UT can’t just beat opposing SEC schools by overwhelming them with talent. They have to inject some creativity into their offense and hire coordinators who can make halftime adjustments. Jim Chaney’s reputation comes form his ability to maximize his offense’s talent advantages. Well, he can’t do that when he’s coaching a team with no talent advantage.

On Saturday, when the Vols lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks, you saw the difference in philosophies. Arkansas hired Sam Pittman in the offseason, who is a tough-minded guy like Pruitt and, despite taking over a worse program and only in his first year, managed to beat Pruitt in his third year. The difference? Pittman stressed X’s and O’s, and it’s working his first year on the job.

Bringing Kendal Briles in as offensive coordinator was a splash move that rivaled Ed Orgeron’s headline-grabbing staff hires a few years ago. Briles has a history of opening up the offense and has worked in the pro-style and spread. He’s creative, fun to watch and does everything he can with what little he has.

A solid quarterback, an elite running back and a couple of reliable targets is all he needs. Briles works around his weaknesses and does his best to out-scheme his opponents, and that’s what he was able to do against UT.

On defense, Pittman hired recently fired Missouri Tigers head coach Barry Odom as defensive coordinator. Known for his ability to be multiple, Odom is overcoming the lack of talent on the Hogs’ defense by relying heavily on zone and switching up his looks at different times, which is why they have 12 interceptions on the year and three defensive touchdowns.

Pittman is coaching Arkansas knowing they have less talent. Pruitt is not doing the same for Tennessee football. At some point, he will have to face reality that he can’t just run a program in which a quarterback is a cog in a system where his talent dominates. He doesn’t have the talent to do that.

Now, this isn’t to say he can’t get there. However, to get there, you have to win big first to be able to recruit. We already told you about the class rankings of players in the program. What about the players who are coming?

Well, remember all that talk behind the Vols’ 2021 recruiting class in the summer? Other teams have caught up. UT is now clinging to a top 10 ranking on Rivals at No. 8 and is fourth in the SEC. If the Vols keep losing, you can bet their class ranking will keep falling as well.

What will Pruitt do then? This isn’t just an issue of playing mistake-free football. He’s running a program as if it has already arrived, and he’s losing way too many games by double-digits in the process. How can he carry himself like everything is normal?

Hiring Pruitt may have been a breath of fresh air after Butch Jones, and yes, Jones was a guy more about X’s and O’s than Jimmys and Joes. However, Jones’ issues included in-game coaching errors, never developing his talent and also not being trendy. His spread offense had been in use for years when he brought it to the SEC, so the X’s and O’s advantage was nonexistent anyway.

At the end of 2017, Fulmer clearly was trying to replicate the model that Georgia, who was en route to the national title game with Kirby Smart, had set by hiring a former Nick Saban defensive coordinator. Smart took over a Georgia team already loaded with talent, though. The same can’t be said for Pruitt, so he needed to get creative. He didn’t.

Unfortunately for Pruitt, all of his experiences were at places he didn’t have to get creative. He worked for Jimbo Fisher at the Florida State Seminoles, Mark Richt at Georgia and then Saban at Alabama. Those teams were all able to win with just Jimmys and Joes at the time.

Next. Five takeaways from Vols' 24-13 loss at Arkansas. dark

Now, though, either Pruitt or Fulmer will have to realize they can’t win this way. Tennessee football needs more than a quarterback who is a cog in the system and a simplified offense. They have to get creative and stop acting like they can just out-talent teams. Otherwise, they’re in for more beatings.