Vandy might stop Vol losing streak

Marvin Westwestwords

Even in this strange time, losses still count one each. Tennessee has six in a row. It has been playing football since 1891 and has never lost seven straight.

If Vanderbilt has enough Commodores opt in, and if they play with enthusiasm, they’ll have a shot at setting the record – or perhaps this miserable losing streak will end.

As you may have noticed, losses come in different sizes and appearances. Some are worse than others. The loss to Florida actually included a few positives.

I assume it was just coach talk when Jeremy Pruitt said, “There’s probably not much difference in the team in our locker room and the team in the other locker room.”

There are different views. Florida has three or four really outstanding players. The game wasn’t as close as 31-19 implied but the score was closer than the betting line.

The Vols gave good effort. They were better on offense than they had been in weeks. For the first time, there was a hint of an identity. That ties in with two young quarterbacks. Freshman Harrison Bailey made his long-awaited debut as a starter and was OK. Sophomore J.T. Shrout sparked two long touchdown drives as closer. Neither committed an unpardonable sin.

The Vols could not stop Kyle Trask. Nobody has. He set a record with 35 completions. He produced 433 passing yards and four more touchdowns. He made it look easy.

Trask leads the country with 38 TD passes in nine games. He might win the Heisman Trophy. Votes are due in two days after the Southeastern Conference championship game, Florida against Alabama in Atlanta.

Tennessee, 2-6, lives at a different level. There are worse places. Vanderbilt is another notch down. The Commodores are in turmoil. They are 0-8. They have lost 12 consecutive conference games. Coach Derek Mason is gone. His last setback was 41-0 at Missouri.

Vandy had opt-out problems in August. It has endured typical virus problems. Supposedly, players were divided over whether Mason should go or stay. Supposedly, there is another split over kicker Sarah Fuller.

Many in America made a big to-do over the first woman in major college football. She was invited to address the team at halftime. Some inside the room rolled their eyes. She delivered a token kickoff to begin the second half. The world cheered.

“Enough already” was the theme behind the scene.

On Friday past, at something close to the last minute, the Vanderbilt at Georgia game was postponed. The explanation was COVID-19 cases, contact tracing, injuries and more opt-outs among the Commodores. Georgia parents headed to Athens for Senior Day were said to be miffed.

The combination suggests there might not be a Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Or, the mere mention of the once Big Orange could heal the sick, restore the lame and rekindle Vandy passion.

Be sure the Volunteers want to play. They have a little something to build on. They matched Florida with 24 first downs. They actually led the Gators for a few minutes.

If there was any doubt about the eventual outcome, Florida destroyed dreams and removed apprehension in a matter of minutes before and after halftime. The Gators went up by 10 with 33 seconds remaining in the second quarter. They went up by 17 after 89 seconds of the third.

Florida was ahead by 24 when Shrout entered the fray but the Gators were not in coast mode. They were still blitzing and hitting. J.T. completed 12 of 14 for 121 and a touchdown in one-third the time Bailey was granted.

Shrout twice made correct reads and ran. He reminded all that he has a big arm. Pruitt said he played “extremely well.”

Bailey was a treat. He shows leadership skills. His stats, 14 of 21 for 111 and a touchdown, did not inspire awe. He overthrew deep routes. He probably held the ball too long a couple of times. He took five sacks. The biggest plus was three quarters of quarterbacking without a turnover.

Pruitt said: “I thought he kept his poise, thought he scrambled well, kept his eyes down the field and really provided a lot of positives.”

What Pruitt did not say was which quarterback will start whenever Tennessee next plays. It probably won’t be Jarrett Guarantano. I can almost guarantee the coach will leave us all guessing.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments and questions. His address is

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