First-year coaches face off as Tennessee hosts ETSU
The Volunteers (0-1) are hosting Football Championship Subdivision program East Tennessee State (1-0) one week after losing 40-14 to No. 14 West Virginia. That drubbing gave Tennessee eight losses in its last nine games.
“We have a lot to improve on and a lot to prove in trying to create an identity for our football team,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt isn’t the only first-year coach seeking to build a winning identity Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
East Tennessee State’s Randy Sanders sees this game as a building block for a program that just started playing football again in 2015. East Tennessee State had shut down its football program in 2003 for financial reasons.
Sanders and Pruitt worked together as assistant coaches on Florida State’s 2013 national championship team.
This represents a major step up in competition for ETSU after a season-opening 28-7 victory over Division II program Mars Hill . ETSU is getting $500,000 for making the trip to Knoxville, which marks the Buccaneers’ first matchup with an FBS team since bringing back football.
The odds against ETSU are so long that Sanders joked about what he might do if the Buccaneers produce the upset.
“I’m going to have that goalpost thrown over my shoulder coming back up the interstate,” said Sanders, a former Tennessee quarterback and offensive coordinator. “I wouldn’t be riding no bus. I’d be walking, probably naked, with the thing on my shoulder.”
This marks the first meeting between Tennessee and ETSU, which are separated by just over 100 miles. The biggest link connecting the two programs is Tennessee athletic director and former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer .
When ETSU revived its football program, Fulmer served an advisory role that included fundraising and assisting in the hiring of Carl Torbush as coach. When Torbush retired last year, ETSU hired Sanders , who had worked as an assistant on Fulmer’s Tennessee staff during the Vols’ 1998 national championship run.
“He was crucial to us,” said ETSU athletic director Scott Carter, a former ETSU player and Tennessee assistant athletic director. “Phillip Fulmer’s name is synonymous with football in the state of Tennessee.”
Here are some things to watch when Tennessee hosts ETSU.
100-YARD RUSHERS: Both teams have players who rushed for over 100 yards in their season openers. Tennessee’s Tim Jordan replaced an injured Ty Chandler and rushed for 118 yards against West Virginia. ETSU’s Quay Holmes also ran for 118 yards in the victory over Mars Hill. Saturday’s game should provide another showcase for Jordan, as Pruitt says Chandler’s unlikely to play this week.
MISSING KENNEDY: Tennessee’s offensive line must adjust to the loss of starting center Brandon Kennedy , who injured his anterior cruciate ligament in practice Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season. Ryan Johnson, who started at right guard against West Virginia, likely will move over to center.
ETSU’S TESTED QB: ETSU quarterback Logan Marchi has BCS experience as a Temple transfer. Marchi also is accustomed to playing on big stages, as he threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns in Temple’s season-opening 49-16 loss at Notre Dame last year . Marchi went 17 of 29 for 273 yards with three touchdown passes against Mars Hill.
SECOND CHANCE FOR SECONDARY: Tennessee’s pass defense is looking to redeem itself after allowing five touchdown passes to West Virginia’s Will Grier.
YOUTH MOVEMENT?: Pruitt already showed he’s willing to give newcomers a chance by starting freshmen at cornerback (Alontae Taylor) and safety (Trevon Flowers) against West Virginia. A matchup with an FCS program could result in more opportunities for Tennessee underclassmen to show they merit bigger roles the rest of the season.