A Look in the Mirror
By: Wesley Hayes
The All Vol Call in Show
September 4th, 2019
There are a lot of things that have to go wrong before a disaster of this proportion can happen to a once proud blue-blood program. There’s no sugar coating it, and it shouldn’t be sugar coated. This is the worst loss in over 100+ proud years of Tennessee football. The Vols have never had a loss this bad, but as much as it hurts --
We can’t fire Jeremy Pruitt, and we can’t riot in the streets -- not yet. We should never forget this. We should learn from it; and this is not me implying that Pruitt needs to be fired. I still like Coach Pruitt, and I think he has immense potential, but this falls on his shoulders.
As a defensive minded head coach, and a former defensive coordinator, you cannot allow your defense to not know what they are doing. They have be ready to play mentally, if nothing else. I understand the state of the roster, and I understand where we are in a rebuild.
The problem is how natural it looked. We were out manned, out coached, and out-willed. It was even noted in-game by multiple analysts that Tennessee’s sideline was lifeless compared to a GSU sideline that was teeming with energy. This simply cannot happen again.
Ryan Leaf, and everyone else watching that game saw and said the same thing, “ It didn’t look like a fluke.” Jeremy Pruitt even said they were beaten in every facet of the game -- that’s not okay. We should be talented enough to line up and beat them off talent alone, but given the state of this rebuild I understand why we could struggle.
Don’t forget that Tennessee struggled mightily to block a (4-8) UMASS team at home last year. What I don’t understand is why we are running guys on late, not properly managing the game, and lining up improperly. Again, unacceptable. This is what you get paid millions to do, so one way or another, you have to do it.
By no means at all am I trying to take anything away from Georgia State, Shawn Elliott or their staff, but that’s Tennessee doing what Tennessee does -- playing down to competition.
It’s no secret that the last 20 years have been hard for Tennessee fans of all ages. The painful losses, and embarrassing displays of effort are beginning to take a serious toll on a once strong fan base. Tennessee fans young and old are becoming more and more callused with the program, and that is revealed first and foremost with attendance.
Tennessee humbly announced an attendance of 85,000 for the game Saturday night. Tennessee fans have been nothing if not loyal to this program, and they deserve change, but change takes time. This team needs the fans' support now more than ever coming off this crippling loss.
I understand that continuing to invest in a program that doesn’t care is fiscally and emotionally irresponsible, but Tennessee bringing back Phillip Fulmer proves that they care. Phillip Fulmer loves the University Of Tennessee, and he made the best hire possible. Lest we forget how that disastrous coaching search went.
All I’m saying is although this was the worst loss in Tennessee football’s proud history, this is not evidence enough to fire Jeremy Pruitt. This should be alarming, but not damning. This shouldn’t be the end of the Jeremy Pruitt Era. This is year 2 game 1, and Tennessee is in the middle of at least a 4-5 year rebuild. If we could give Butch Jones five years to run the program the rest of the way in the ground, why can’t we give Pruitt four to right the ship and see where things stand.
As bleak and heart-crushing as that loss may be, there are tangible positives. Everyone has raved during fall camp about Freshman RB Eric Gray and LB Henry To’oto’o. Saturday offered a serious glimpse at the potential futures they could have here on Rocky Top.
An offensive line that has struggled mightily in the past, had an overall decent game against Georgia State. Although there were some mental errors, Tennessee rotated a lot of bodies, and generally was still able to get a push. That alone should be at least slightly encouraging after last years 3rd-and-short inconsistencies. Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings both made some plays in the passing game, and Guarantano did display a better sense of pocket awareness, even if it wasn’t excellent.
Likewise, there are the negatives, littered all over the film like cigarette butts on the ground outside of a Waffle House, there were negatives. It’s a list so long you almost don’t know where to start. Guarantano definitely did not play his best game, and the defense looked slow, and like they didn’t know what they were doing.
The coaches didn’t seem to make any adjustments out of the half, as Georgia State ran the ball right down the field and scored a touchdown to take the lead after half time. Nonetheless, Saturday was a very unimpressive showing for everyone outside of a handful of guys.
This should hurt everyone involved with the Tennessee football program. From Phillip Fulmer, down to the fans and Alumni. This kind of loss is unforgivable under normal circumstances, but as a Vol fan, you have to understand these circumstances haven’t been normal in a long time.
Not in the 20 years that I’ve been alive, that I know of. This once proud program that has spent the last 20 years stumbling its way through the dark is not a over-night fix. It’s not what Dan Mullen walked into and turned into a 10 win team, and it’s not what Kirby Smart inherited at Georgia either. This situation is delicate and unique.
It’s been one thing after another, and I’m sure we all feel like we just can’t catch a break. Listen, it’s going to get better -- it has to. A school with Tennessee's resources can’t stay down forever. As hard as it is, Tennessee fans need to exercise more patience with Pruitt than they did with Jones.
This roster is going to have to be completely purged of the last staff before Tennessee can truly start thinking about championships. Right now, Vol fans should just be excited about the young guys that have been brought in. Everyone needs to stop calling for his job, take a step back from that ledge, and take a long look in the mirror.