Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt has an impressive resume.
He was the defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama.
Yet on Saturday when West Virginia University and UT clash in the season opener in Charlotte, North Carolina, Pruitt will add a “first” to that resume – his first game as a head coach.
Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen knows the feeling and on Monday reflected. His team defeated Marshall 34-13 back on Sept. 5, 2011.
“I remember it very vividly, honestly, for a couple different reasons,” Holgorsen said. “I had some older guys on the team that looked at me and said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No, I’m good man. I don’t get too nervous about these things.’ There’s a little bit of anxiety before the game, but not nervousness. But they all said, ‘We’ve got your back. We’ll go win you your first football game.’
“They did, but the unique part was it only a three-quarter game. We had lightning. We had rain storms. We had [a four-hour delay]. I was having so much damn fun in my first game we were able to do it for about 12 straight hours.”
Pruitt was asked his feelings about the upcoming benchmark.
“My emotions are probably the same way before I tee off on the golf course,” Pruitt said. “If you’re going to play, you’re going to win. That’s what we try to do. I’m excited to have an opportunity to see what our team is going to be like because it doesn’t really matter what has been done in the past.”
Perhaps partly because he’s a first-time head coach, Pruitt is hiding his choice as starting quarterback. When the Volunteers’ depth chart was released on Monday, redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano and redshirt senior Keller Christ were listed as co-starters.
“With all the positions we have, we still have competition,” Pruitt said.
Holgorsen didn’t downplay the ploy.
“It’s tricky, there’s no doubt about that,” said the Mountaineer coach. “Coaches are pretty diligent people. They want to try to have every answer and prepare your guys for every situation. And every time there’s a new staff it makes it challenging.
“There have been times when we got tricked or we got fooled and had to make some sideline adjustments quicker than we anticipated – when it was a completely veteran coaching staff coming back. You have to always be on guard for that in Game 1.”
WVU, meanwhile, also released its depth chart – and likewise played coy at some positions. The big news was Mountaineer defensive coordinator Tony Gibson isn’t hiding the fact that graduate transfers Jabril Robinson (Clemson) and Kenny Bigelow (Southern California) are starting at end and nose tackle, respectively. Returning starters Ezekiel Rose and Reese Donahue were listed as co-starters at the other end.
The coy parts were at center (Jacob Buccigrossi or Matt Jones), right guard (Joe Brown or Isaiah Hardy) and running back (Kennedy McKoy or Martell Pettaway or Alec Sinkfield or Leddie Brown).
UT’s depth chart showed 11 newcomers or true freshmen on the two-deep. Especially glaring was one of the cornerback spots – which listed Alontae Taylor or Bryce Thompson, both of which are true freshman.
“We can’t predict how these guys will play Saturday,” Pruitt said. “All we can do is go based off how they have performed since they have been here.”
While UT’s quarterback situation remains a mystery, by the way, there is none in the WVU camp. Preseason All-America pick Will Grier is set to go, according to Holgorsen.
“He’s in a good spot,” said the WVU coach. “He’s practicing well. The game is a lot slower for him now. And he truly understands what we’re trying to do, not only from a scheme point of view, but also from the standpoint of managing games. I’m really, really, really excited about getting out there and watching him play.”
Holgorsen mentioned he’s also excited his quarterback gets to play in his hometown of Charlotte – in addition to other site benefits.
“I’m tickled to death this game is in Charlotte as a neutral site,” Holgorsen said. “Both fan bases think Charlotte is very important. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a jam-packed stadium with a lot of energy.”
Officially called the “Belk College Kickoff,” the game will begin at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. It will be televised on CBS.