(utsports.com) KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – All of the hard work in the summer, the countless time in the weight room and the several hours on Haslam Field during fall camp were all for this week, as the preseason preparation culminated with the first game-week practice on Monday afternoon.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt and the rest of the Tennessee Volunteers are excited for Week 1 to begin.Tennessee hosts Georgia State at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
“It’s that time of year again and I know everyone is excited,” said Pruitt. “I know that we are as a football program. Talking to our staff this morning, there’s a lot of time and effort that you put in to prepare for your one guaranteed game. It’s the first game where you get to see the time you put in with your players in January, February, spring ball, summer conditioning and fall camp. To me, one of the most important things is that you have to enjoy it.
“That’s why these kids play the game,” said Pruitt, who recalled his own memories of starting football in Pisgah, Alabama. “And, lots of times we’re coaching them and telling them they have to do things this way or that way, but you think back to the purity of the game when you first started and that’s why we do play the game.”
Pruitt will see a familiar face on the opposite sideline as Shawn Elliot, who was a South Carolina assistant coach from 2010-16, opens his third year at the helm for the Panthers.
“Shawn Elliott is a guy that I’ve coached against over the years,” Pruitt said. “He was a fantastic offensive line coach. When you watch this team play, you see the same things that I’ve always seen going against his offensive line. They’re tough, they’re smart, they play hard, they’re very well coached and they do lots of things on offense.”
The Vols last faced the Panthers on Sept. 8, 2012 when Tennessee came away with a 51-13 victory.
Looking For the Perfect Game
While the Vols mixed things up in the offseason, highlighted by positional changes and finding the team’s identity, Pruitt said that the variables of the game are what keep football exciting.
“Well I think us as coaches we are always looking for the perfect game,” Prutt said. “The number one maxim is the team who makes the fewest mistakes will win. So, first what you got to do is don’t beat yourself…There are lots of unknowns and that’s the excitement about college football… We’re going to be simple on both sides of the ball and give our kids a chance to play fast and try to win each play in itself.
“So, first what you got to do is don’t beat yourself up. I don’t think you sit there and say hey we tolerate mistakes, but they happen. So when they happen, you got to be able to keep your poise and minimize them and learn from them and don’t let them happen again.”
Bituli Game-Time Decision
Pruitt said that starting middle linebacker Daniel Bituli will likely be a game-time decision due to a minor knee injury.
“I think Daniel will be pushing to be ready this week, but he’s not going to be able to practice today,” Pruitt said. “He’s right there but we’ll make sure we do what’s in the best interest of him.”
Bituli led the Vols in tackles for the second-straight season, finishing with 79 stops in 2018. A season ago, the now-senior ranked third on the team with 6.5 TFLs and added one sack and a pass breakup.