The Tennessee Vols were technically underdogs against South Carolina on Saturday night, but anyone who watched the game knows Jeremy Pruitt’s UT squad should’ve left Columbia with a win.
Tennessee dominated the first half of the game, but the defense was unable to stop Jake Bentley and the South Carolina offense.
The loss to the Gamecocks on Saturday night was the first game the Volunteers have lost this season that I thought they should’ve won. They let the game slip away.
But while the loss was disappointing for Tennessee, I don’t think Vol fans should be concerned.
Tennessee lost to South Carolina yet again, but this is a different team
The Vols lost on Saturday night because they didn’t execute in enough situations.
There were situations where Tennessee did what they were suppose to do. They were able to effectively run the ball (UT’s running backs averaged over five yards per carry in the loss) and the Vols’ wide receivers were excellent at picking up yards after the catch thanks to some strong perimeter blocking.
But the offensive line still failed to block the guys in front of them at times. And the defensive line wasn’t able to generate consistent pressure on Bentley (Tennessee managed only one sack).
Those are all things that will improve as Pruitt continues to find his groove as a head coach. More importantly, Tennessee will improve in those areas once Pruitt gets a few recruiting classes under his belt.
What should be encouraging, however, is that Tennessee went on the road in the SEC and looked like a team capable of easily winning. If the Vols’ defense plays a little better on Saturday night, and if a few calls go Tennessee’s way (like the phantom defensive pass interference against Baylen Buchanan or South Carolina’s goal line fumble recovered by Daniel Bituli that wasn’t reviewed) then UT walks out with a win.
That’s a far cry from where the Vols were just a year ago.
Tennessee had its worst season in program history in 2017. A year later, they look like a team on the rise under Pruitt.
The biggest reason UT fans shouldn’t be concerned about the loss to SC
Perhaps the biggest reason Tennessee fans shouldn’t be concerned is because 2018 is a transition year for the Vols.
And I think that’s something fans, and some media analysts, have seemed to forget.
Wins obviously matter this season. Reaching a bowl game is important for the future success of the program.
But this season is mostly about instilling a culture and plan that will set Tennessee up for success for years to come.
Sometimes it takes some tough losses to change the culture.
Pruitt can take Saturday night’s loss to South Carolina and show his players they’re capable of winning tough games on the road. They were just a few plays away beating the Gamecocks and showing the rest of the country that beating Auburn wasn’t a fluke.
If Tennessee is losing to South Carolina in year 3 under Pruitt, I’ll be concerned. But I’m not concerned about tonight. He took a broken group of players and played Muschamp to the wire on the road. Things will improve.
— Chad Withrow (@withrowzone) October 28, 2018
Tennessee’s players played with effort on Saturday night. And they played with pride. They didn’t always do the right thing on the field. They missed some assignments and they were responsible for some dumb penalties (I love Jauan Jennings’ swagger, but you can’t put the ball on the chest of the defender after scoring).
But for the most part, Tennessee is starting to develop its identity under Pruitt. They’re becoming a team that can put together long drives and punish defenses with physical runs (from both running backs and wide receivers).
The Vols still have a ways to go. Pruitt, however, is working hard every day to get Tennessee to the next level.
Pruitt won’t rest until he gets the Vols back to an elite level. In fact, even when Tennessee gets back to being Tennessee, Pruitt still won’t rest.
It’s just not who he is.
And that’s why the Vols are destined for great things with Pruitt at the helm.
Featured image via Jeff Blake/USA Today