What a day, well, what a second half. Could be the Vols are learning to win.
Big game at the big ball park, significant victory, so much excitement, so much adversity overcome, explosive plays, audience participation, smart offensive strategy, fierce defensive determination.
“Spectacular atmosphere” said the winning coach.
The start was terrible, as bad as it gets, 75-yard throw, catch and run on the first play, 7-0 deficit after 11 seconds. Defensive backs and linebackers were left looking at each other.
For those with weak knees and faint hearts, it was a total disaster. Did all the air spill out of the balloon?
Nope, said Jeremy Pruitt. Nobody even blinked. The Vols recovered, took the lead, lost the lead and later lost the sideshow.
The coach boiled over. He launched a rip-roaring attack on the nice gentlemen in striped shirts, assigned by a higher authority to properly manage the conflict on Shields-Watkins Field. Pruitt raised holy hell. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. That is code for bad words. Half the distance to the goal was like being told to wash out your mouth with soap.
Interesting snippet: The multitude found convincing evidence of official maleficence on the giant video replay board. The officials wouldn’t look.
All that happened before intermission.
A new word emerged to describe Tennessee football in the second half: Domination. That is, more or less, the opposite of being knocked around and stepped on. The Vols pitched a shutout. They looked like they might become a bowl team.
Did I actually say that? Let’s amend it to we’ll see. The record is 3-5 but Tennessee is much improved and well worth watching. Tickets are available.
We now interrupt this celebration for a brief return to reality.
Careful now. Stop jumping around. Put both feet on the ground. There is little margin for error and a lot of important people are hurt. This is a one-game winning streak. What remains of the schedule is more favorable than the mid-part but don’t leap overboard and start swimming to New Orleans.
We now return to the original script, team victory, win on offense, win on defense, win with special teams. The offensive line was strong in pass protection. Tennessee had a really good game plan, almost 500 yards, Jim Chaney at his best, vertical attack, throw it down the field. This was another return on his $1.5 million salary.
What I liked best was the rehabilitation of Jarrett Guarantano. He made a remarkable trip from the scrapyard to the scrapbook. So sorry that he suffered a broken hand but that is better, I suppose, than a broken heart.
Amazing how Jarrett recovered from losing his job, from the Alabama disaster and the public whipping. He apologized to the team. He made peace with Pruitt. He kept his head up, just in case he might be needed, might get another chance.
“Absolute class, first and foremost,” said former roommate Trey Smith. “Resilience, in my opinion. He had a lot of outside pressure bringing him down, bringing him way down, but he didn’t let it get him.”
Guarantano was a vital part of the victory. In the final moments, he got a big hug from the head coach.
I liked J.T. Shrout’s coming-out opportunity. He did not look like the moment was too big. He believes he can play.
Daniel Bituli was a joy to behold, maybe the best game of his impressive career, 15 tackles, punt block and TD recovery.
Jauan Jennings is strictly star stuff. He is strongly opposed to being tackled. This man brings passion. He is a warrior, an old-fashioned gladiator, a throwback to life or death in a Roman arena. Did you see him after the game, flexing his right bicep for fans to admire?
He and we could have talked at length about his 174 receiving yards on seven catches, the broken tackles, the touchdowns and the pass he completed from the wildcat formation.
What a story is Jauan Jennings, kicked off the team two years ago for very bad behavior, now the personification of a football player, team leader, tough hombre.
Nigel Warrior was all over the field for 10 tackles. Darrell Taylor had two sacks and two pass deflections. Kivon Bennett is coming on as a pass rusher. Marquez Callaway’s 65-yard punt return was very important. He really should catch some of the other kicks he watches.
Time out for a name-dropping tidbit: Guarantano, Bituli, Callaway, Warrior, Bennett, Taylor and Jennings are remnants of the Butch Jones era. Hmmmm.
Alas and alas, the party is over. UAB (more Alabama, 6-1 record) is coming next. Tennessee has another set of quarterback questions. Is Brian Maurer a safe distance from concussion symptoms? Can Guarantano possibly play with a soft cast on his left wrist? Is Shrout strong enough to carry the whole load?
Do the Vols realize that all prosperity is temporary? Is this team really learning how to win?
Marvin West welcomes reader remarks and more questions to go with his questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.