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Tennessee Football: Expectations vs. Reality: Can Brian Maurer improve in second start

5 areas where Brian Maurer can improve in his second start for Tennessee Vols football

Blake Toppmeyer Knoxville News Sentinel
Published 6:03 AM EDT Oct 11, 2019

Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt best summed up quarterback Brian Maurer’s first career start when he described the freshman’s performance against Georgia as having more good than bad.

Maurer energized an offense and supplied the longest play of the season when he found Marquez Callaway for a 73-yard touchdown.

Like the Vols (1-4, 0-2 SEC) as a whole, Maurer’s performance declined after halftime in a 43-14 loss to No. 3 Georgia on Saturday. He finished 14-of-28 passing for 259 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

“I think he handled himself well,” running back Ty Chandler said.

Here are five areas where Pruitt thinks Maurer can improve in his second start against Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network).

See the blitz

Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes crumpled Maurer with a punishing hit in the fourth quarter that caused a fumble. The Bulldogs scored on the fumble recovery.

Stokes came on a blitz. He was lined up near the line of scrimmage, almost disguising himself to look like a defensive lineman or a linebacker.

He ran untouched past right tackle Darnell Wright, who is not responsible for blocking a blitzing cornerback. It’s Maurer’s responsibility to see the cornerback blitz, Pruitt said, and unload the ball quickly to take advantage of the hole in the secondary caused by a blitzing defensive back.

Maurer struggled against blitz packages. Expect MSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to cook up plenty of blitzes.

“They generate a five-man rush a lot,” Pruitt said.

Be louder signaling the snap

Tennessee had three false start penalties against Georgia. Seems like an offensive line issue, right? Well, Pruitt said the quarterback affects that, too.

Tennessee’s quarterback signals the snap verbally when he’s under center and by clapping when he’s in the shotgun.

“He’s got to be louder when he’s under center, and he’s got to be more direct when he’s clapping his hands,” Pruitt said.

Read the safety

On Maurer’s third-quarter interception, he overthrew intended target Josh Palmer on a downfield pass. The bigger issue, though, was that Maurer didn’t look off the safety, allowing safety Richard LeCounte to get a break on the pass and come over the top for the interception.

“We’ve got to look (the safety) off and control him. That’s something Brian has got to learn,” Pruitt said on his television show that aired Sunday.

Make the correct read on run-pass option plays

Pruitt noted that Maurer made the wrong read a few times on run-pass option plays. RPOs have a run play and a pass play attached to them, and the quarterback determines which play to trigger after the snap. The quarterback reads a particular defender or two, and based on what he sees, he either hands the ball off to the running back or fakes the handoff and executes a quick pass.

On a few occasions Saturday, Maurer faked the handoff and passed the ball when he should have given it to the running back.

Run through progressions

Maurer was generally pretty quick in getting rid of the football and made decisive reads on several of his passes. Other times, Pruitt thought he had receivers coming open if he held the ball just a bit longer.

It’s a fine line to walk. Tennessee’s pass protection is shaky, so better to be too quick than too slow. Throwing the ball away if your first or second read isn’t open is better than a sack.

Sometimes, though, Pruitt thought Maurer had more time than he realized to give receivers more time with their routes.

“If he had held it for (another) count or two, we had other guys breaking open,” Pruitt said. “But you’ve got to have a clock in your head as a quarterback. You can’t sit back there and hold the ball, and I thought he done a nice job, for the most part.”

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.

This content was originally published here.

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