A few weeks ago, Tennessee fans were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Never mind a bowl game, fans were worried that another winless record in the SEC was all but a certainty.
Then Auburn week came, and word was coming out that there was some tension within the Tigers’ program. Pair that with the fact that Auburn was coming off of a touchdown-less loss to Mississippi State and a dog fight with a far-inferior Southern Miss team, and Vol fans, players, and coaches alike began to smell blood in the water.
And on Saturday, October 13 at approximately 2:30 p.m. local time, the Vols captured their prey. Tennessee went on the road and stole a win on the Plains. It was UT’s first SEC victory in 11 tries. It also marked the first time Tennessee had won an SEC West game since 2010 when they beat Ole Miss, and it was their first SEC West road win since 2007 at Mississippi State.
Needless to say, the Vol faithful are feeling pretty damn good right about now, and they should.
I’ve said all season long that if Tennessee plays to its strengths, which is through the air and getting their playmakers (Callaway, Jennings, Palmer, Chandler) the ball as often as possible, that they will find success.
And would you look at that? Tyson Helton finally opened up the offense a bit, and Jarrett Guarantano went 21 for 32 and threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns. Similarly, Pruitt finally let Jauan Jennings out of the doghouse, and Jennings came up with five receptions for 71 yards and a TD. Josh Palmer had three catches for 84 yards. Marquez Callaway caught two passes for 55 yards and Ty Chandler brought in 5 receptions that went for 62 yards and a TD. It appears that Pruitt has gotten this team and staff to turn the corner and now a bowl game once again looks like a real possibility.
Many of the fans and media (including myself) had Tennessee beating Florida, going 0-4 in October, and searching for two more wins in November (chalking up Charlotte as a win).
After the Florida debacle, a bowl game was no longer in the discussion. But with the surprise victory over Auburn, the Vols have essentially made up for the loss to the Gators. So, Tennessee’s record is essentially sitting right where it would have been if they had beaten UF and lost to the Tigers.
Now, we all know what’s coming up this Saturday. The annual bloodbath at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide. But I do expect Tennessee to show up and fight for the first quarter and a half or so, at least. All I want to see is fight and passion because we all know UT just doesn’t have the horses to go toe-to-toe with Bama at the moment. Battling and showing no quit against Nick Saban’s juggernaut will further solidify that Pruitt has truly gotten through to his squad.
Looking past the Tide, the Vols have five winnable games afterwards. A win on the road in Columbia over the Gamecocks looks like a legitimate possibility. South Carolina’s offense seems to have hit a wall and is susceptible to an upset.
Charlotte is a win.
Then there’s Kentucky, Missouri, and Vandy in that order. If Tennessee can get a win at South Carolina, they will walk into their final three-game stretch with a 5-4 record, meaning all they have to do is find one more win to go bowling.
I say all of this to say that, once again, the pre-season truly means nothing. Neither Auburn, Vanderbilt, or South Carolina are as good as we thought they might be and the same applies to Kentucky and Florida on the flip side of the good/bad token.
And because of this, Tennessee fans can and should feel very positive and excited for the second half of the season.
There’s no reason start looking ahead to 2019 when there’s plenty of winnable football left to play right now.