KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has lost 10 straight games to Power Five opponents, hasn’t beaten a Southeastern Conference team since 2016 and now must face three straight top-10 foes.
So it would be understandable for the Volunteers to have a crisis of confidence after committing six turnovers last week in a 47-21 loss to Florida that opened their Southeastern Conference schedule. Last year, Tennessee also began SEC play with a disheartening loss to Florida and wasn’t the same the rest of the year.
But the Vols (2-2, 0-1 SEC) remain upbeat and insist they won’t follow a similar path this year. They’ve impressed their new coach by how they responded to this latest setback while preparing for Saturday’s trip to No. 2 Georgia (4-0, 2-0).
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said he was walking through the football offices Sunday when he saw numerous players watching game tapes, a gathering that had been organized by the players themselves.
“You always wonder how people are going to respond when you don’t play at your best,” Pruitt said. “Everybody associated with Tennessee has got to be disappointed in how things turned out Saturday. Nobody is more disappointed than the men in this building. I think everybody involved is trying to find a way to get it right.”
Tennessee can’t afford to dwell on what went wrong last week. The Vols’ schedule won’t allow it.
The Vols are 31½-point underdogs at Georgia. After getting next week off, Tennessee visits No. 10 Auburn and hosts No. 1 Alabama.
“We just have to keep going,” offensive tackle Trey Smith said. “We can’t do anything to affect what happened Saturday night unless we have a time travel machine, and (then) I’ll go back right now.”
Georgia won 41-0 at Tennessee last year to hand the Vols their first shutout loss since 1994 and their most lopsided home defeat since 1905.
Even so, Georgia coach Kirby Smart is taking nothing for granted and citing this series’ history of close games prior to last season. The last time Tennessee visited Georgia, the Vols won on a Hail Mary pass.
“I think this is one of the exciting rivalries in college football,” Smart said. “When you look over the last six, seven years, there have been some really tight ballgames, some really exciting ballgames, and some I watched from afar and some I’ve been a part of. I have a lot of respect for their program.”
Tennessee’s chances of staying competitive with Georgia could depend on the health of quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who absorbed plenty of hits against Florida and was knocked out of the game in the third quarter.
“Jarrett got banged up a little bit, but I said when I first took the job that Jarrett is a tough guy,” Pruitt said. “I saw him (Sunday) throwing balls and dropping in the indoor facility. I think a lot of our guys are itching to get going again, which is a good thing.”
Tennessee says it learned its lesson from last year.
A year ago, the Vols lost to Florida on a Hail Mary pass and never recovered. They struggled through a 17-13 victory over Massachusetts in their next game, got blown out by Georgia the week after that and won just once more the rest of the season.
This time, the Vols want to make sure there’s no hangover effect from the Florida game. Defensive end Kyle Phillips says the Vols will bounce back and emphasizes that “we’re not quitters.”
“We’ve just got to keep on working and I think good things will eventually start happening,” Phillips said. “We had a tough run Saturday with too many mistakes, but I think if we keep on working and eliminate some of those mistakes, I think we’ll be a pretty good football team.”