By Jimmy Hyams
After Tennessee’s lackluster victory last weekend over Texas El Paso, Vols coached Jeremy Pruitt was asked if his team was ready for SEC play.
The answer: A resounding no.
Tennessee was outplayed, outcoached, outhustled and outexecuted in dropping an embarrassing 47-21 decision Saturday night to a Florida that could muster only 16 points in an earlier loss to Kentucky.
The Vols had six turnovers and were pinned for a safety to contribute to the carnage.
Members of Tennessee’’’’s 1998 national champion team that was honored at Neyland Stadium had to cringe. Has the program really fallen that far in 20 years?
On Tennessee’s six first-half possessions, four resulted in a turnover and one a safety. Florida led 26-3 and there was little hope of a UT comeback.
Five times during the game, Florida began a drive in UT territory. Four times, the Gators scored a touchdown, twice on the first play and once on the second play.
Tennessee did something I didn’t think possible Saturday night: It made Florida look like a top 25 team.
Maybe we should give Florida more credit for its demolition derby downing of the hapless Vols.
Or maybe Tennessee is one of the two worst teams in the SEC.
How bad is Tennessee? The Vols have gone 673 days without an SEC win.
The Cleveland Browns went only 635 days without victory before beating the Jets on Thursday.
If you’re looking for a bright spot, the Vols won time of possession by about 8 1/2 minutes and ran 26 more plays – proving once again those are two of the most meaningless stats in football.
Things were so dire against Florida, linebacker Quart’e Sapp, who missed last week’s game due to injury, refused to enter the game.
When Sapp balked, Pruitt asked the junior to leave the bench.
“I don’t know how things were done around here before,’’ Pruitt said. But he made it clear: “We’re not going to do that.’’
Pruitt said Sapp has been a “great ambassador’’ for the football program and added “he’ll learn from his mistake.’’
Perhaps that’s a hint that Sapp has not been dismissed from the team, but that is unclear.
What is clear is that Tennessee has a long ways to go – much further than I thought – to be arespetable team. Another 0-8 SEC campaign is more likely than I imagined in August.
Florida controlled the line of scrimmage, a fact Pruitt acknowledged.
“They got too much push,’’ Pruitt said. “It was not hard to see tonight.’’
Pruitt said when hit, Florida’s running backs went forward, Tennessee’s did not.
“That adds up over the course of the game,’’ Pruitt said.
It added up to two points early in the second quarter when Tennessee, backed up at its 2-yard line, got stuffed for a safety while trying to run from a bunched formation.
Given UT’s struggles along the offensive line, I could smell a safety coming. UT is probably better off spreading the field and throwing from its end zone rather than try to run against a stacked line.
Asked how Tennessee can regroup before it plays a powerful Georgia team in Athens next Saturday, Pruitt said: “I want to fix the team in this lockerroom.’’
That might take a while.
This rebuilding job at Tennessee is monumental — as a former UT coach might say–much greater than I anticipated at the start of this season.