College Sports

One thing’s clear about USC-Vols matchup: Both coaches are heated about officials

Jeremy Pruitt and Will Muschamp have more in common than being former Nick Saban assistant coaches now in charge of their own SEC programs.

At least this week, anyway.

What Muschamp dealt with during South Carolina’s loss to Florida on Saturday afternoon trickled down to Pruitt and Tennessee in their loss to Alabama on Saturday night.

Both coaches — and their fans — feel they’re coming off games in which they were slighted by SEC officials.

The Gamecocks (3-4, 2-3 SEC) and Volunteers (2-5, 1-3) meet at 4 p.m. this Saturday in Knoxville.

Muschamp, after showing frustration in the post-game news conference, told reporters Sunday that he’s spoken with both SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and SEC director of officials Steve Shaw about key calls that went against USC in the Gator loss.

Pruitt, whose Vols were penalized 13 times for 93 yards in Tuscaloosa, addressed the situation Monday.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that I fully support Steve Shaw and everything that goes about in the SEC with our officials,” Pruitt said during a Monday news conference in Knoxville. “It’s a tough job. It’s a really tough job. Things happen really fast. There’s probably three or four things that happen in the game that I’m complaining to the officials about and I was wrong. When I watched the tape, they were right and I was wrong.

“Now there’s probably three or four other things that happened in the game that I don’t agree with. There’s nothing that Steve could tell me or anybody else could tell me that I would agree with what happened in the game — whether it was a flag on us or not a flag on us.”

Pruitt specifically pointed to a roughing the passer call on Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor that extended an Alabama drive in the third quarter. The Crimson Tide ended the possession with a touchdown that pushed its lead to 28-13.

“The call on Darrell Taylor was absolutely not a penalty,” Pruitt said. “It’s not a penalty. Would it have changed the game? I don’t know. I know they would have punted instead of going on and scoring that possession. Could they have scored the next possession? Sure. Was there a couple things in there where I felt like they took shots on our quarterback? Absolutely.”

The Vols lost linebacker and sacks leader Daniel Bituli after he was ejected for targeting in the second quarter of the Alabama game.

“I think it is targeting,” Pruitt said. “He hit the guy with the crown of his helmet. I don’t know where he hit him at yet, but it doesn’t matter. And I really don’t know what to tell Daniel any different because the guy’s six inches off the ground. It’s hard to go here from there without hitting the guy. It is what it is.

“But in my opinion there were probably a couple other targetings in the game that wasn’t called. And that’s what I don’t understand, and that goes back to the replay booth to protect the game. So we’ll see.”

Muschamp wouldn’t detail specific plays — though controversial calls led to two Florida touchdowns — choosing to say Sunday night that the Gators “won the game. Nothing I’m going to say is going to change anything. We all saw what happened. That’s in the conference office’s hands.”

Tennessee and South Carolina rank fifth and sixth in the SEC in penalties per game.

“Hey, we make mistakes as coaches, and they’re going to make mistakes as officials,” Pruitt said. “Players make mistakes, we all do, nobody’s perfect. ... But unfortunately we’re all held accountable. And from an accountability standpoint, it’s tough. What’s the repercussion here?”

QB note: Pruitt said it was too early in the week to name his starting quarterback. Three QBs played against Alabama, including starter Brian Maurer, who exited with a concussion.


Who: South Carolina vs. Tennessee

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee

TV: SEC Network

Line: USC by 4

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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