The Tennessee Vols are currently in the midst of an impressive hot streak, similar to what we saw in 2015-2016.
Tennessee got off to a red hot 5-0 start in 2016, which included wins against the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs (it was the first time UT had beat Florida and Georgia in the same season since 2004).
The good times, however, quickly faded. After the win against Georgia, which was Tennessee’s 11th straight win, the Vols went 4-4 (including inexplicable losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt).
It was the beginning of the end for then head coach Butch Jones, who would be fired in late 2017 after a 4-6 start.
Fast forward a few years and the Vols are once again riding an impressive winning streak. After Saturday’s win against Missouri, Tennessee has won eight games in a row (the longest current winning streak by a team from a Power-5 conference).
Considering how 2016 turned out, should fans feel confident that UT has turned the corner?
Or is this once again fool’s gold?
I tend to think it’s legitimate. And it’s mostly because the way Tennessee is winning games feels a lot different than it did in 2016.
When the Vols got off to a 5-0 start in 2016, it involved a lot of luck. Tennessee was two plays away from being 7-6 in 2016. If running back Jalen Hurd doesn’t recover a fumble in the end-zone against Appalachian State, and if wide receiver Jauan Jennings doesn’t catch the Hail Mary against Georgia, then the Vols lose both of those games.
Plus there was the Virginia Tech game, which saw Tennessee overcome an early deficit thanks to five fumbles by the Hokies.
And don’t forget about the Vols’ narrow 28-19 win against Ohio in week three. A good SEC team blows Ohio out in Neyland.
There were plenty of signs that the 2016 Vols weren’t for real. Eventually, Tennessee’s luck ran out. They weren’t able to pull off the comeback against Texas A&M after the win against Gerogia. And then the Vanderbilt and South Carolina debacles were just….inexcusable.
So far in 2020, I haven’t seen any signs that this UT team isn’t for real. They’re playing hard, they go for it in tough fourth down situations. They play with swagger. It’s a team that looks ready to compete with anyone in the nation.
The Vols essentially manhandled Missouri on Saturday — which is what you’d expect a good UT team to do. It wasn’t like in 2016 when the ball needed to bounce Tennessee’s way to guarantee a win against an inferior team.
Now, I’m not ready to predict that Tennessee is going to run the table and compete for the SEC Championship. I’m not quite there yet.
But I certiantly like what I see from the 2020 Vols more than what I saw from the 2016 squad.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And Pruitt is doing everything necessary to make sure the Vols are out front when the marathon ends.
Featured image via Tennessee Athletics/AP