The Tennessee Vols’ 2019 season has been incredibly unique.
After getting off to an ugly 1-4 start this season (including the inexplicable loss to Georgia State in the season opener), the Vols have won four of their last five games to even their record at 5-5.
It’s safe to say that second year UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt has righted the ship. The team looks vastly improved and they appear to be on the right track moving forward.
But let’s be clear — the 2019 season will be defined by how the Vols fare in the last two weeks of the season.
If Tennessee beats Missouri and Vanderbilt and finishes 7-5, the season will be largely viewed as a success (despite the bad loss to Georgia State).
However, if the Vols run out of gas like they did last season, and fail to reach a bowl for the third straight year, all the goodwill that Pruitt built in the middle of the season will vanish.
Fortunately for Tennessee, I think they have the spark they need to finish the season on a high note.
And it’s in the form of five of UT’s seniors — Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Darrell Taylor, Nigel Warrior and Daniel Bituli.
For those five seniors, who have become tremendous leaders for the Vols, this is their last chance to leave their mark at Tennessee. This is their last chance to finish a season on a high note.
Sure, there are other seniors on Tennessee’s roster, but those five, who have been in the spotlight as much as anyone at UT, have been through a lot during their time as Vols. They’ve seen the ups of early 2016 and the downs of everything since the loss to South Carolina in 2016.
After everything those players have been through, it’s hard for me to imagine them leaving Tennessee on a low note.
Staying focused and going out on a high note
Bituli, to his credit, is making sure UT stays focused during the final weeks of the season. The senior linebacker told reporters this week “what we don’t want to do is become complacent and be happy with where we’re at”. He added “what we can’t do is overlook them (Missouri) because of the previous success we’ve had these previous games.”
Callaway noted that the team feels they have a lot to play for in final weeks, while acknowledging that the seniors want to make the most of their last road game and home game.
Coming off the well timed bye week, I think we’re going to see a Tennessee team the final two weeks that plays with a lot of energy and passion.
The Vols know they’re on the verge of something special. The seniors, however, aren’t going to be around when the program gets to where it wants to be.
But they can still make an impact. And they know that reaching a bowl game will help Tennessee become the program it wants to be.
Featured image via Randy Sartin/USA Today