Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing

Over the course of a three year clinic on football ineptitude, the Tennessee Volunteers have had their share of moral victories. In particular, this season’s competitions with Alabama and Georgia showed glimmers of hope for the big orange faithful. However, Saturday night Vol fans were reminded that there is just nothing like the real thing, a bonafide butt whipping of a conference foe.

At this time three years ago, Josh Dobbs’ Volunteers were in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. With wins notched over Georgia and Florida, they needed only to dispose of the lowly also rans in the East for their title shot rematch with Alabama. Along came South Carolina. Muschamp’s scrappy squad quarterbacked by a freshman dashed the Vols’ SEC title hopes, and precipitated the ultimate destruction of a team.

The Vols haven’t been right since that game. What followed were consecutive losses to Vanderbilt, the wildest and weirdest reality TV coaching search in history, and a loss to Georgia State in a home opener. The nightmare began in Columbia in 2016.

Demons were exorcised Saturday night, as the Vols put together their first beat down of a serious team since 2016. They dominated all three phases of the game, all while playing three different men at quarterback.

Wins on the road at Auburn and against top ten Kentucky last year were more impressive than a win over the 3-4 Gamecocks at first blush. However, the importance of this victory lies not in the skill or identity of the opponent (although South Carolina did beat Georgia only a few weeks ago), but in the way Tennessee played.

Not one of Tennessee’s three quarterbacks committed a turnover. Shrout and the much maligned Guarantano were crisp and accurate. The offense generated explosive plays galore, a foreign concept to those who witnessed the milquetoast offenses of years past. The special teams unit, lead by a pair of seniors in Callaway and Bituli, scored twice. The whistle did not go the Vols way early, and they could have easily folded after a game opening 75 yard touchdown pass for USCjr, but they didn’t. This team exhibited something that it hasn’t over the past several seasons, character.

Our program has been caught in a malaise since the near miss of 2016. Fans are exasperated. No one imagined in 2008 we would still be rebuilding in 2019. I hesitate to make a sweeping declaration after whupping up on a 3-5 team, but I couldn’t help feeling last night, my living room reverberating with a chorus of Rocky Top drowning out the voices of commentators inside the stadium, that something clicked with this team.

It hasn’t made any sense. We have an elite coaching staff. We have better talent than at least half of the conference. The losing can only be attributed to cultural problems. Last night Vol fans got the first tangible evidence of a change in that culture. Perhaps what began with South Carolina those years ago, ended with South Carolina last night. Go Big Orange.

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