Following his team’s 38-12 loss to Georgia on Saturday in Athens, Georgia, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt stopped mid-sentence to wipe stray tears from his cheeks.
The emotion did not stem from losing, though.
Instead, Pruitt said his emotion came in response to a second-half Volunteer effort that “makes [him] excited.”
The game may have ended decently for Tennessee, as the Vols showed a resilient spirit, but Saturday’s matchup certainly didn’t begin that way.
Georgia took an early lead when the Bulldogs punched in a 31-yard touchdown on an obscure, fluke play.
With a little under nine minutes left in the first quarter, Bulldog quarterback Jake Fromm dropped back, then fumbled after Darrell Taylor closed in for the sack in the backfield. Tight end Isaac Nauta picked up the stray ball, ducked through several tackles and raced down the sideline for Georgia’s first score.
After the game, Tennessee defensive back Baylen Buchanan quickly noted the Vols’ inability to recover the football.
“That can’t happen,” Buchanan said. “When the ball’s on the ground, we have to come up with it.”
The Vols proved unable to capitalize on several would-be Georgia turnovers, as the ‘Dawgs fumbled four times, only to recover each loose ball.
Following Nauta’s score, Bulldog kicker Rodrigo Blankenship added a 43-yard field goal, making Tennessee’s deficit 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.
D’Andre Swift- 12 carries for 50 yards, two touchdowns- posted the Bulldogs’ second score with 30 seconds remaining in the half. The score stood at 17-0 at halftime.
Following the break, Georgia added another score from freshman quarterback Justin Fields. With the score 24-0 after the PAT, the game appeared all but over with 9:52 remaining in the third quarter.
But Tennessee pushed back in a way that caused Pruitt to well with pride.
With 5:14 left in the third quarter, Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano connected with Josh Palmer for a 37-yard touchdown pass. While the ensuing two-point conversion failed, Tennessee linebacker Daniel Bituli said that the Vols’ mindset locked in: “keep pushing.”
Following the touchdown, the Vols forced Georgia into two straight punting situations, which came rarely for Tennessee on a day when nothing except effort went right for Pruitt’s team.
Georgia added two more scores from Swift and Fields, respectively, doing what Pruitt said “a good football team is supposed to.”
While the Bulldogs ultimately proved too much to overcome, Pruitt and his players take positives into the bye week.
“That team in red today tried to change the way we thought,” Pruitt said. “Our guys kept fighting.”
In recent seasons, Tennessee hasn’t responded well to bye weeks, the most notable loss coming against South Carolina and then 17-year-0ld quarterback Jake Bentley in 2016.
Pruitt hopes to change the pattern.
“We need to have a good run academically, and we’re going to go to work on the football field,” Pruitt said.
Following the break, Tennessee will travel to Auburn on Oct. 13. Start time remains unset.
Featured image by Jake Nichols