Tennessee could have given up in the Vols’ 40-14 loss to West Virginia in the Belk Kickoff Classic in Charlotte, North Carolina.
West Virginia (1-0) relentlessly attacked Tennessee (0-1) from the opening kickoff on, but head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s team continued to fight until the game clock reached zero.
Late in the first quarter, West Virginia took a 10-0 lead when Will Grier connected with T.J. Simmons on a 59-yard touchdown pass. West Virginia seemed poised to run away with the game. Then, Tennessee struck back.
Signs of life:
After two unproductive offensive possessions, Tennessee’s offense regrouped and put together a scoring drive of its own.
Tennessee’s offense drove 77 yards to the 1-yard-line, but West Virginia’s defense stopped the Vols three times to set up fourth-and-goal.
Then, Pruitt decided to make a risky choice. Instead of opting for a field goal attempt, Pruitt left his offense on the field and trusted starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to put the ball in the endzone.
That risky move paid off.
Guarantano found tight end Dominick Wood-Anders wide open in the endzone for six.
Pruitt said his decision to go for the touchdown on fourth down came from his desire to build a winning culture.
“We’ve talked about how we’re not here to run a sprint, we’re here to run a marathon,” Pruitt said. “We’re trying to build a culture and be an aggressive team that plays to win.”
After halftime, West Virginia seized the initiative again. Will Grier connected with Sills and Jennings on 33-yard and 28-yard touchdown passes, giving West Virginia a 27-7 lead.
However, Tennessee got off the mat and responded with another impressive drive.
Tennessee’s offense raced down the field on the ensuing drive. The possession ended with running back Tim Jordan’s 4-yard touchdown run. Jordan led Tennessee with 118 yards rushing on 20 carries.
The team kept fighting, but Tennessee’s defense couldn’t find an answer for West Virginia’s potent passing attack. Defensive lineman Paul Bain’s fumble recovery in the fourth quarter shined as another bright spot for Tennessee. But Tennessee’s subsequent offensive possession ended with a turnover on downs inside West Virginia’s 10-yard line.
Pruitt tenably expressed disappointment with the game’s outcome, but he believes his team will respond to the loss in a positive way.
“We lost it, we’re 0-1, all right,” Pruitt said. “I’m not real happy about that, but somebody’s got to lose and unfortunately it’s us. So, we can either wallow in it or we can figure out a way to make us better, and I think that’s what our guys will try to do.
Up Next: Tennessee hosts East Tennessee State University at Neyland Stadium next Saturday.
Featured photo by Jake Nichols
Edited by Lexie Little