Everyone is thinking it. How in the heck does a program with the resources and fan base of Tennessee go out and lay an egg against a relatively new Georgia State Panthers team? How does a team coming off a 2-10 season in a weak conference upset a SEC team with the alleged amount of talent that the Volunteers have? It’s unfathomable. Over the past few days, fans have been processing grief at varying speeds. Denial, anger, bargaining, and depression can be heard throughout the town on talk shows, seen on Twitter, or overheard in casual conversation. Gradually, fans are working to accept the reality of Saturday’s stunning upset.
Saturday’s game was arguably the worst outcome in the history of Tennessee football. There is no getting around that. This group was uninspired and flat out whipped at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee deserved to lose that game and did. This season’s story, however, is not over.
Tennessee needs you. Picture Jauan Jennings dressed as an orange and white Uncle Sam asking each fan to do their part to cheer on the Vols. Tennessee’s fans are among the most loyal in the country and certainly deserve better than what was on display this last Saturday. That being said, turning on the program ends well for no one that bleeds orange. We have been in a perpetual cycle of hiring and firing for over a decade now. Quitting on the first game of year two is not the answer.
Adversity reveals a team’s true character . All indications in the off-season were that this team is more invested than the team that closed out last year. While the response of the team during the game on Saturday looked similar to the team that was beaten down by Missouri and Vanderbilt, this team has leadership that last year’s seemingly lacked. With Jauan Jennings and Trey Smith leading the charge, Tennessee has leaders that it can look to. A players only meeting was called following the loss to Georgia State, because what happened on that field was unacceptable. Jennings spoke publicly this week, taking full credit for the team not being ready to play. No one knows what to expect this upcoming Saturday, but it is encouraging to see the leaders of the team taking responsibility for the loss.
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Rome was not built in a day. If Tennessee wants to return to national prominence, fans must continue to be patient. A coaches ability cannot be judged solely on his second year, much less one game during his second year. Dabo Swinney, who has Clemson rolling as well as any program in the country, went 6-6 in the ACC in his second full year as the head coach of the Tigers.
Furthermore, if fans can think back to the contest between Tennessee and Air Force in 2006. Air Force ran the triple option and it gave the Vols a fit throughout the game. They will remember a top-ten team on the ropes against an opponent that went 4-8 that year. The Volunteers ended up winning by 1 that year, but the point remains that even an outmatched opponent has a fighting chance. This is especially true when one considers that Tennessee was without its senior inside linebacker, Daniel Bituli. The Vols fielded a young front seven without a veteran in their midst to help ease some of the growing pains and correct some of the misallignments.
This rebuild isn’t an overnight project and Jeremy Pruitt should accept the weight of responsibility for this loss. His player’s were not ready to play, but he is still a young head coach. He will make mistakes and learn from them, if he is given time. The administration is behind him. Fans must be too, for the time being.
Last Saturday may have very well been an outlier. Fans and players alike will be hoping that the game was an extreme outlier. One data point is never enough information to make a good decision. At this point, that is all that the program has to look at for our season. One data point. If the season ends with the Volunteers only winning three or four games, then it may be time to evaluate the future of the program under Jeremy Pruitt. But, now is not the time to abandon ship. In the words of General Neyland, “If at first, the game or the breaks go against you, don’t let up…put on more steam.” Now is the time to put on more steam.
May we return to our former glory once more.