Heading into week three of the 2019 season, the Vols have zeroed in on their upcoming third-consecutive game at Neyland Stadium when in-state foe Chattanooga comes to town on Saturday.
Kickoff against the Mocs is set for Noon ET and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network with Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb and Alyssa Lang calling the action.
As the Vols look to overcome an 0-2 start, head coach Jeremy Pruitt reinforced his belief in his personnel and the program during his Monday press conference.
“If you can develop the right habits at practice – that’s what we’re trying to do – (develop) the consistencies,” Pruitt said at his press conference on Monday. “We’re going to get better at that every week. Every week, the games going to slow down to them. We’re going to create a little more depth, a little bit more competition. It’s going to make us a better football team.
“We’ve got a strong group of coaches that know how to win. We’ve been there, we’ve done it, we know what it takes.”
Despite the disappointing early-season outcomes, the Vols boasted notable improvement between the season opener against Georgia State and their double-overtime loss to BYU last Saturday. Keyed in on increasing its output trajectory, Pruitt is confident that the results will eventually shift.
“When you look at where our team was at in the first week and how much we improved from Week 1 to Week 2, that’s what we have to do,” Pruitt said. “I want to see how much we improve from this past week to this next week. To me, that’s a goal for this week, if we can do it again. I said that if we do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. I truly believe that.”
Freshmen Making Early Impressions
The 2019 season has already provided opportunity for newcomers to make immediate impacts and freshman linebacker Henry To’o To’o and classmate running back Eric Gray have taken full advantage on their respective sides of the ball.
To’o To’o impressed again in UT’s thriller with the Cougars, recording eight tackles, including one for a loss of two yards and a quarterback hurry. In his historic collegiate debut, the Sacramento, Calif., native became the first true freshman to lead the Vols in tackles (seven) in a season opener since Dwayne Goodrich did so in 1996 against UNLV.
“I just expected myself to be able to contribute to the team,” To’o To’o said. “I wanted to be a part of something special, and I wanted to be able to help these guys around here, my brothers, the best way that I can.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Gray has been equally as impressive. Against BYU, the Memphis native ran for 77 yards on 17 carries, the second most in both categories for the Vols. Gray’s recent performance came on the heels of a noteworthy introduction to the college ranks as his six receptions against Georgia State were the most by a freshman running back since Jalen Hurd had seven catches in 2014 at South Carolina.
Despite the early individual success, the newcomers still look to work hard and contribute as much as possible, crediting the leadership from the upperclassmen on the team for their support.
“I feel like it’s thunder and lightning,” Gray said about his relationship with junior running back Ty Chandler. “Ty’s a great mentor. He’s helped me day-to-day on different things. I feel like we feel more comfortable as a team.
“That’s the message for everyone. Everyone’s saying that we’re going to be better. You can feel it in the atmosphere, that we’re on the verge of being something special.”
Bumphus Comfortable in New Role
The team-first mentality pervades the entire Vol squad and is highlighted by junior LaTrell Bumphus who moved to the opposite side of the ball to fill a need for more depth on the defensive line.
The Savannah, Tenn., native moved to defensive end from the tight end position in the spring and has seen quick success leading the team with two sacks and a fumble recovery through the opening games.
“We’re all trying to step up and become better leaders,” Bumphus said. “I think we’ve still got a whole lot of confidence. We know that it’s a long season and we’re still improving. Getting turnovers is the key to winning games. We are all bought in.”