Tennessee football: Ugly win? Maybe. Who cares ... the Vols are back in the bowl hunt
Tennessee’s win over Mississippi State on Saturday wasn’t pretty. However, looks aren’t everything.
One could argue that the Bulldogs did more to lose the game than Tennessee did to win it. However, that would be short-sighted.
Credit Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt with creating a mix bag on his defensive front that kept State guessing throughout the contest. Pruitt showed his defensive acumen by creating an approach with several different twists and stunts. In layman’s terms, Pruitt made sure that the Bulldogs never knew where UT’s defenders were coming from.
Pruitt’s game plan against Mississippi State was impressive considering that the Vols struggled with alignment earlier this season. Instead of simplifying things, Pruitt challenged his players even more in the 20-10 win. That speaks volumes. Pruitt apparently hasn’t listened to all of the noise surrounding his program about his demise. Pruitt didn’t play safe Saturday. He stood by what he believed.
How many more SEC wins are out there? Beating the Bulldogs might prove to be a semi-monumental win. The Vols play at Alabama on Saturday, which is all but a guaranteed loss. Then, they play South Carolina, which just beat Georgia in the biggest upset of this college football season but lost QB Ryan Hilinski to an injury. The Vols will then play at Kentucky (which has QB concerns) and Missouri before hosting dreadful Vanderbilt to close the season.
For those hoping for a bowl trip, it’s not outside the realm of possibility with the win over State, especially if Pruitt proves to be as resourceful with his defensive approach as he was on Saturday. UT is 2-4. The Vols just have to flip that record in their final six games. That’s a tough chore, but beating the Bulldogs shows that UT’s players have plenty of pride left and aren’t quitting on the season. That was a real concern just a couple of weeks ago.
As for offense, Tennessee put up 20 points. An early touchdown run by Tim Jordan helped put pressure on State early. However, putting up 20 points against the Bulldogs isn’t anything to brag about. They currently rank 11th in the SEC in scoring defense.
However, the Vols kept their distance from State with a familiar replacement at quarterback. Jarrett Guarantano returned to the first team after Brian Mauer suffered a concussion. Guarantano is perhaps the best example of a key player who could have thrown in the towel on the season. He didn’t. He was ready to play and made the most out of his second chance. UT’s entire team should be commended for not feeling the gloom and doom that could be coming when Mauer was knocked out.
Guarantano is one of the great mysteries of the 2019 SEC season. Just why did he regress? He looked to be at his best against Mississippi State. The junior completed 6-of-7 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. The performance could have Tennessee’s coaches wondering if they should move back to Guarantano as the starter. That’s doubtful. The last thing UT’s coaches need this season in a quarterback controversy.
It might seem obvious but Tennessee’s coaches, players and fans shouldn’t dwell too much about their upcoming game results. The Vols are facing one of the all-time great college football programs seemingly playing at its best. In what was supposed to be a challenge, Alabama thumped Texas A&M 47-28 on Saturday.
The Vols won’t beat Bama on Saturday — but let’s just say that the game is close, that UT gives Alabama a scare in Tuscaloosa. That would give UT’s season a much different feel as opposed to last week. While some fans don’t want to hear it, that’s where Tennessee’s football program is right now. A close loss against a good team should be appreciated.
One wonders what the Vols might unveil against Bama this week. The win over Mississippi State might give a glimpse of what UT will try to do defensively. The Vols will have to show multiple defensive looks to slow down the Crimson Tide. UT simply can’t compete with Alabama in a straight-up fight. The Vols will need to surprise Bama’s explosive offense to keep it close.
An ugly win over Mississippi State should be celebrated. A pretty loss against Alabama should create the same reaction.