RUSSO | Vols knocked down, like me, but not out

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Like Tennessee, my night came crashing down on me late in the Vols’ 27-24 loss to the Gamecocks.

With South Carolina trying to salt away the win, I could see running back Rico Dowdle rushing toward the sideline where I was shooting the action with my camera. UT defensive back Nigel Warrior was chasing him at a frantic pace. It happened so fast and in the blink of an eye, Warrior rolled up on me and sent me into a tailspin.

The initial contact was difficult, but when the dust had settled, I was lying on the turf and beginning to suspect something was very wrong with my right ankle. An ambulance ride and a few X-rays later, my fear was confirmed, I had fractured my distal fibula, at the end of one of the bones that supports my ankle joint.

As I prepare to go on injured reserve, I can’t help but think about Tennessee’s season and how the Vols have been knocked down as well, but I believe this team is far from being out. A young group who is missing some of its parts has little margin for error and once again, key penalties and breakdowns on defense would lead to big plays by the Gamecocks, eventually doing in the Big Orange.

Coach Pruitt had implored his squad after the Alabama loss to bring max effort. Well, I feel like the guys did bring that desire to perform at a high level against the Gamecocks. But unlike the win against Auburn, a few factors, in my opinion, would prevent Tennessee from getting over the top.

The inability to put pressure on the quarterback bought Jake Bentley the necessary time to find his receivers for big gainers - on more than one occasion.

Conversely, the Vols and Jarrett Guarantano had a tough time getting the ball downfield as they did against the Tigers a couple weeks ago.

And the aforementioned penalties at inopportune times, especially on UT’s final drive, would derail Tennessee’s opportunity to pick up another big road win!

The Vols also struggled at times stopping the run, including that fateful final play for me when Tennessee was trying to get the ball back for one final shot at redemption.

I will say this, after getting knocked out of the Alabama game, Jarrett Guarantano displayed all the toughness you want to see in a leader doing whatever it took to keep his team competing throughout what was a very physical game.

Speaking of playing physical, I thought Marcus Tatum did a nice job in place of Trey Smith, who’s been lost for the season, at left tackle. Despite giving up a key sack late, the offensive line did some nice work in helping put Tennessee in position to try and win the game.

So, yes, down, but not out for a group of players who may have a window of opportunity starting to close. But it’s not shut yet. Continued improvement and more of that maximum effort might just get this group to where it wants to be by season's end.