New coaching staff alters format of Tennessee's spring game
FILE - In this March 27, 2018, file photo, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt walks on the field during an NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn. Pruitt has brought plenty of change to Knoxville. Even the format of Tennessee's annual spring football game is different. (Caitie McMekin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, File)
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee fans finally won't need a cheat sheet to keep track of the score at this year's spring game.
New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt has vowed to make Saturday's Orange & White Game as close to a normal game as possible. He's dividing his team into two separate squads and is having them play an exhibition game with typical football scoring.
"It gives them an opportunity to prepare for the environment they will see in the fall," Pruitt said.
That's a departure from the style employed by former Volunteers coach Butch Jones , who had the offense face the defense with a complicated scoring system that awarded each side a specific number of points for notable achievements.
For instance, the offense got one point for making a first down while the defense would earn three points for forcing a three-and-out or seven points for forcing a turnover. Each side would get a point whenever it achieved its "down and distance objective" as defined by the staff.
That system left fans and reporters staring at the scoreboard after each play just to figure out the score. The 2014 spring game ended with both teams having at least 100 points.
This year's spring game figures to have more of a typical football score. Pruitt also plans to have two-minute drills at the end of each half to see how his players respond under those circumstances.
"I kind of like it," linebacker Quart'e Sapp said of the new format. "It's better scenarios. We actually have different things intertwined with a two-minute drill, a four-minute drill that prepares us for the season, situations we might see actually in games."
Pruitt has been very circumspect in what he's said about his team this spring. At one point, he went through four straight post-practice media sessions totaling about an hour without mentioning a single player by name.
Because of that, most of the attention surrounding Tennessee this spring has focused on Pruitt himself rather than any individual player. Pruitt's new boss likes what he's seen from the former Alabama defensive coordinator .
"He's done exactly what he said he was going to do in the interview," athletic director and former football coach Phillip Fulmer sad. "He's exactly what I thought - a detailed person, an organized person."
This game's format should offer the best indication yet about the complexion of Pruitt's first Tennessee team.
Pruitt set up the rosters in a way that would enable the projected first-string offense to face the probable first-string defense while the second-team units also match up against each other. The Orange roster appears to have most of the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense while the White team has the No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense.
For incumbent starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, it represents a chance to impress the new staff before Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst arrives this summer to challenge for the job. Plenty of other players also have much at stake before getting increased competition this summer from incoming freshmen as well as upperclassmen returning from injuries.
Pruitt wants to know which players will be best equipped to handle the adversity they'll encounter when Tennessee opens the season Sept. 1 against West Virginia in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"That's one of the things we've talked about going into spring practice, figuring out who the guys are who love to compete when the game's on the line," Pruitt said this spring. "The only way to figure that out is truly put them in a game-like situation, pick sides and let's go."
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Updated April 20, 2018