KNOXVILLE — According to University of Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, a lot of the Volunteers' mistakes in their surprising 38-30 loss to Georgia State Saturday were pretty much self-inflicted.
If there is a positive, it's that they have five days to fix things, although the competition gets even stiffer this week.
But Monday's press conference hinted more at the desire for pride after a humiliating loss to a Sun Belt team that has only been a program for 10 seasons, including last season's 2-10 record.
"Everybody in the room has Tennessee on his chest, so, what do we all need to do to improve to be at our best?" Pruitt said Monday. "It all starts with me, so on the defensive side, we've got to be able to improve, execute, make adjustments during the game. We've got to eliminate mistakes.
"When you look at the teams that win, there's lots of people that talk about talent and there's probably something to that, right? It helps to have talent, but if you look at good football teams, they create the right habits, make very few mistakes. They play the right way, compete, play smart, play together and don't beat themselves. When things aren't going their way, they find a way to change the momentum of the game, that's what good football teams do. It's not like some kind of dust that you sprinkle out there.
"Since I've been here, there's been a few games we've played pretty good. The reason we played pretty good was the focus on the details; we executed, and maybe we continue to do that until the other team makes mistakes. That's what you have to do. That's what we've got to focus on and that's what we'll always focus on."
Focus is something that appeared to be sorely lacking Saturday. Early on, it was a fumble on a swing pass from Jarrett Guarantano to Ty Chandler on what was a poorly thrown ball. Guarantano also threw an interception in the fourth quarter with the game still in doubt, made some questionable decisions on throws and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter. The latter came on a sack, one of five by the Panthers — four coming in the Vols' final 19 snaps of the game.
Marquez Callaway also fumbled after a solid punt return, although he was able to recover it. The offensive line didn't play well, although Pruitt highlighted senior center Brandon Kennedy and true freshman tackle Darnell Wright as a couple that played pretty well.
Defensively, missed assignments and general confusion led to the Panthers' offensive success. Tennessee was penalized once for having 12 players on the field due to a defensive change and a player not getting off the field in time. Another time the Vols had 10 players on the field, with Deandre Johnson sprinting out on the field right before the snap. That play resulted in a Georgia State touchdown.
"We've got to go to work," Pruitt said. "We've got to go back and practice the right way, work on creating the right habits. We're young and inexperienced and we've got to continue to grow; the most you improve is from the first to the second week. We have a great opportunity starting today to do that, and if we're made the right way — I'm talking what's inside of us about wanting to go back, having a little pride about who you represent and who you play for — you go back and you dig a little deeper, try a little harder, watch a little more film here, or do a little extra in the weight room, whatever it is.
"We've got to look in the mirror and figure out what we've got to do, each and every one of us to get better and that's what we've got to do in this building."
Shades of Gray?
One of the bright spots Saturday came in the form of the true freshman Eric Gray, who finished with 29 yards rushing on seven carries and 51 yards on six receptions, the most catches by a freshman running back since Jalen Hurd had seven against South Carolina in 2014.
He was exciting at times, using spin moves to shake defenders and gain multiple yards, but he also struggled in pass protection and was pushed right into Guarantano for a fourth-quarter sack.
"He wanted in the game. He wants to play," Pruitt said. "He did make some guys miss a little bit. He probably needs to put one foot in the ground and get North and South a little more, but he's a guy that what we saw Saturday we've been seeing all fall camp."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.