Not feelin’ this

I’ve got a regret right now

As the University of Tennessee’s one hundred and twenty second football season wraps up, many fans, this author included, are left with a rotten taste in their mouths. Tennessee’s performances against Missouri and Vanderbilt left fans with much to be desired, and more questions than answers about the future of Tennessee’s program under coach Pruitt.

If there is one cardinal sin in all of sport, it’s lack of effort. Being undersized, out-coached, and out-played are all palpable failures, but lack of effort is not acceptable. The casual observer could point out that some of Tennessee’s players, particularly on the defense, seemed to have lost their edge as the season wore on. Senior defensive end Kyle Phillips acknowledged as much in the post game press conference.

“The teams that win every Saturday show up,” stated Phillips. 

“And we didn’t. We don’t show up every Saturday.”

Where do we go from here?

Of the many things I am thankful for over this thanksgiving holiday, one of the foremost is that the fans who so adore Tennessee football do not actually have any decision making power regarding its future. The reactions among Vol fans were similar to those after Derek Dooley’s team let a third string quarterback from Kentucky lead the Wildcats to victory in Neyland. It’s not that bad.

Losing to Vandy should always be met with outrage, both inside and outside the program. But there is a stark difference between dissatisfaction and panic. Criticism of Tyson Helton is fair, and it may be true that for one reason or another, he isn’t going to workout as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. However, I would venture to say that Bill Walsh himself couldn’t have coached this offense to success. Butch Jones left Pruitt a decimated offensive line, in terms of both talent and development. The lack of a cogent strength program under Jones could leave the Vols hamstrung for a few seasons to come.

Helton is a west coast style pass happy offensive coordinator. It’s clear now that there is some friction between he, offensive line coach Will Friend, and Jeremy Pruitt regarding style of play. Pruitt wants to run a traditional, run first style offense. It’s worthy of note that not many elite teams today are adhering to that model. Overall, harsh criticism of Helton is premature. It’s firmly on Fulmer and Pruitt at this point to make the necessary changes, if any, to correct the chemistry in the offensive staff this off season.

Turn all the lights down now

The last man in orange on the field Saturday night was freshman athlete Jeremy Banks. He watched in horror as the Vandy elites reviled our team and our brand, celebrating at midfield and claiming Nashville as “Our town.” When he finally went to the locker room and the arena lights went off, season 122 concluded and the real work began for coach Pruitt.

The mandate is clear – flip the roster in the fastest imaginable fashion. Tennessee may have the second worst roster in the entire conference. Pruitt has 9 months to recruit, coach, and condition a new team, and more importantly a new culture on Rocky Top.

I’d like to believe next year’s team will be markedly improved, but it just doesn’t seem possible at this point. No one playing on Tennessee’s offensive line at this point is has demonstrated that he is an SEC caliber player. The best case scenario is that Pruitt brings in a swathe of junior college lineman, but it doesn’t appear likely at this point. Can the guys we have now, and a few true freshman, really do any better than this? As the year concludes, and the holiday season approaches, Vol fans would be wise to enjoy the basketball season, decompress, and most importantly ask Santa for some patience and maybe a few 5 star linemen.

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