By: Paul Leatherman
(Contributor to the All Vol Call in Show)
On September 11th, Tennessee played host to the Pittsburgh Panthers in Neyland Stadium. Going into this game, both fans and players understood how big this game could gauge the rest of the season. I mean, just looking back on early gut wrenching losses in the past, they seem to create a pattern. In the 2015 season, the Vols had a 17-3 lead on Baker Mayfields’ Oklahoma Sooners before eventually losing that game in what would be the first of 4 games the Vols lost control of that season.
That team could never really rebound from the loss and brings the question, can this one? Moving forward the schedule appears to traditionally get tougher for the orange and white. After playing Tennessee Tech, the Vols are headed to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators in the swamp. Keep in mind, other than the 2019 beatdown the Vols have been able to keep it close with their bitter SEC East rival when playing in Ben-Hill Griffin Stadium.
In 2015 the Vols had the game all-but-won before surrendering two late touchdowns drives in the 4th quarter after leading 27-14 with 10 minutes left in the game. Then in 2017 the Vols were the ones to come back and tie the game after trailing 13-3 early in the 4th. After Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley made a 27 yard field goal to tie it up with 50 seconds left, Florida QB Felipe Franks threw a 63-yard bomb to Tyrie Cleveland for the game winning touchdown as time expired.
I personally like the Vols in this matchup. Florida hasn’t shown people much defensively, or offensively, for anyone to think the Vols have no chance at coming away with their first win in the swamp since 2001. After the trip to The Swamp, the Vols head to Missouri to face a team that has been pesky for them since joining the conference in 2012. Tennessee is 4-5 against Missouri in the nine seasons the Tigers have played Tennessee in SEC play.
After this game, Tennessee welcomes South Carolina to Neyland Stadium. This should be considered a very winnable game for the Vols. South Carolina has an extremely depleted roster, and has looked awful since Steve Spurrier left in 2014. The schedule only gets harder from here, and if Josh Heupel really wants to win the fanbase over, he has to find a way to win the games he should, and start to compete against the “big three”. Emotionally, it will be interesting to see how the Vols do after facing adversity for the first time in the Heupel era.