By Jimmy Hyams
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt won fans over when he stopped players on the Vol Walk to acknowledge the crowd.
He lost quite a few fans when he changed the Senior Day tradition of having the seniors run through the `T’ individually.
Instead, players were honored at the same time, had their photo made, then served as game captains.
“That was a Mickey Mouse presentation on the field,’’ said VFL Fuad Reveiz during the Football Finals radio show after the game.
“Ridiculous,’’ said one caller.
“Send Pruitt back to Alabama,’’ said another.
But another said Pruitt is “changing the culture and he’s changing the tradition.’’
Actually, you can change a culture without changing a tradition.
You certainly need to be careful about changing the tradition, especially if you are from Alabama.
To my knowledge, Pruitt gave no explanation for altering the Senior Day routine that has been in existence for more than 40 years, nor was he asked.
Perhaps it had something to do with naming the seniors captains.
Whatever the case, Pruitt did get the fan base riled up.
The fan base will be even more riled up if the Vols don’t beat Vanderbilt on Saturday (4 p.m., SEC Network) and become bowl eligible.
Too often in recent years, Vanderbilt has had its way against Tennessee, winning four of the last six in the series, and scoring over 40 points in each of the last two meetings.
“That game means a lot to a lot of people around here,’’ Pruitt said.
It sure does. And if you lose it, you hurt the equity you’ve built up by beating two ranked teams — Auburn and Kentucky. Because if you can beat two ranked teams, why can’t you beat unranked Vanderbilt?
Tennessee failed to accomplish one of its objectives Saturday.
“Our goal was to be undefeated in November,’’ Phillips said, “and we didn’t do that.’’
Tennessee’s tackling was poor against Missouri. So was its pass defense.
Vanderbilt has a capable offense that could exploit UT’s defense. Vandy quarterback Kyle Shurmur completed 22 of 34 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns against Ole Miss and he’s engineer offenses that scored at least 40 points in each of the Commodores’ last two games against the Vols.
Running back KeShawn Vaughn rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against Ole Miss after rushing for 186 against Missouri the week before. Vaughn is among the SEC’s top three rushers.
UT linebacker Daniel Bituli said something no UT fan or coach wants to hear after the 33-point loss to Missouri: “They played harder than us.’’
Center Ryan Johnson said: “We didn’t raise the bar to their level.’’
If Vandy plays harder than UT and UT doesn’t raise the bar against the Commodores, a 5-7 season will go down as a big disappointment – not progress from 4-8.