All around town, the now words are wonderful, wonderful.
Tennessee’s traditional victory over Kentucky, more meaningful than usual, exceeded expectations. The Wildcats were thought to be the stronger team. Not so.
Facts and figures:
Tennessee, 5-5, has upset two nationally-ranked teams. Recollections of the dismal outing against Charlotte are fading fast. Now we know the Volunteers were preparing for Kentucky.
Tennessee, one win from bowl eligibility, has actually created the possibility of a successful season.
Darrell Taylor recorded four sacks against the Wildcats. For some reason, I thought of Reggie White.
Marquill Osborne intercepted two passes. Nothing like that had ever happened. Inexperience showed. After the second, Marquill had a brainstorm and bounced a lateral. That was a shock. Coach Jeremy Pruitt had a little something to say about what could have happened had the ball fallen into enemy hands.
Jarrett Guarantano looked more and more like a quarterback. He broke the school record for consecutive passes without a pick. Jarrett is more than just tough.
Marquez Calloway caught the Hail Mary that Jauan Jennings thought he was going to catch. Beating Jennings to a ball is a significant accomplishment, something like grabbing a meaty bone from a bulldog and living to laugh about it.
Kentucky didn’t even threaten to stop the streak of futility at Neyland Stadium. The Wildcats last won here in 1984.
Those, plus smart game plan and better execution, are the basics of wonderful.
I will not yet attempt to explain the ups and downs of this dizzy football season. I will say Pruitt’s first team has done what Butch Jones’ last team could not do – win two Southeastern Conference games. Upsets count double in some eyes, bragging rights and betting cash in hand.
I suspect the victory over Kentucky will become historic only if the Vols back it up. If they prevail in one or both of the remaining games, it may be a landmark, the intersection where the team truly established a sense of direction.
For four seconds or so, Pruitt labelled it the first complete game, by far the best of the season. He immediately thought of things to repair or improve.
The offensive line performed much better. The running game glowed. Oops, there were two fumbles.
The defense applied genuine pressure on Kentucky quarterbacks. Tight coverage in the secondary factored in the sacks. Oops, there were serious assignment busts and receivers running free.
Coming next is a different challenge. Missouri has a professional quarterback in waiting, Drew Lock, maybe the best in the country at what he does, even better than Will Grier, West Virginia rifleman.
As a group, the Missouri Tigers are almost as confusing as the Tennessee Volunteers. Good Missouri beat the heck out of Florida in the swamp. Not-so-good Missouri had to overcome mistakes, come from behind and hang on to beat Vanderbilt in Columbia on Saturday.
On the positive side, Missouri is bowl eligible. That heat is off.
On the negative side, the defense leaks. Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur completed 14-of-17 for 142 yards and two touchdowns – in the first half.
Commodore Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 182 yards on 15 carries.
Missouri and Vanderbilt are standing squarely in the way of something to cheer about, real Tennessee progress, a winning season, a bowl adventure, 15 bonus days of development for next year.
The Vols have achieved a can-do state of mind: Bring ’em on.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org