Will The Momentum From The Chattanooga Win Carry Over To The Swamp?
In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock, Jeremy Pruitt’s Volunteer squad found a glimmer of team identity on Saturday with a 45-0 win over FCS opponent UT Chattanooga. This was a much needed win after opening the season in disappointing fashion going 0-2 vs. Georgia State and BYU. By all accounts, this Tennessee team should be 3-0 but the past is the past and the Vols are now looking forward at what should be their toughest opponent thus far in 2019.
Tennessee travels to Gainesville for yet another matchup with the Florida Gators, and as they’ve often been lately, the Vols are the underdog (+12.5 – Las Vegas). This begs the question, will the Vols carry the momentum from a convincing win over an FCS team into the swamp on Saturday?
In the Vols’ season opener, the team looked disinterested and sluggish for all four quarters which ultimately led to a disheartening loss. Everyone has an opinion on why it happened, but nonetheless it happened. In week two there was a call to action for Vol fans from the team to come out and support them as they hosted BYU in Neyland and the fans answered. The stadium was loud, the players were pumped up, and even Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt got fired up, hitting and shoving players in an attempt to boost their confidence as the Vols ran through the T. Despite looking much more energized and engaged, Big Orange ultimately fell to BYU in overtime.
In week three, the Chattanooga Mocs came to Knoxville to take their shot at upsetting an SEC team, but Tennessee wasn’t ready to let that happen. The Volunteers created five turnovers including a pick six from veteran safety Nigel Warrior, blocked a punt with a long return for a touchdown, and put up some impressive offensive numbers both on the ground and through the air. The win over the Mocs may have been the first time this Volunteers team has looked like a complete team in the last four years.
There’s a lot to be said for what confidence and momentum can do for a group of young guys at the college level. We’ve all seen it happen time and time again. An underdog G5 team comes into a power five program’s house and walks out with a shocking upset win. It isn’t the talent level that leads to a victory for those underdog squads, it’s not the game plan or playcalling; it’s confidence. A few mistakes by the favored, more talented team and all of a sudden, the Georgia States, Appy States, and Wyomings of college football start feeling like they’ve got a shot to win. And that’s where the sweater starts to unravel.
Tennessee is far more talented than any of those teams. Tennessee’s coaching staff is far more experienced with a much more impressive resume than any of those coaching staffs. What the Vols need heading into the swamp is confidence. They need to believe they can pull off the upset. A few early turnovers, sacks, ESPN top 10 special teams plays for the Vols, and they’ll start to believe. And at the college level, sometimes that’s enough.
The spark was ignited in Neyland stadium on Saturday with the win over Chattanooga. Will Jeremy Pruitt and the staff be able to keep the ember glowing? If Pruitt’s staff can manufacture a couple of momentum shifting plays early in the contest, it may just be the fuel this team needs to erupt into a bonfire for the remainder of the season. It’s hard to imagine that an upset win over a top 10 Florida team doesn’t produce enough momentum to carry the young Volunteers through the rest of the season. We’ve already seen this Florida team struggle with a fired up Kentucky opponent last Saturday and a lackluster Miami team in their season opener. Tennessee has the weapons to pull of the upset if they just have the confidence to execute it.
With the losses to Georgia State and BYU, it’ll be a difficult road for Tennessee to reach a bowl game. As they sit at 1-2, they need five wins out of the next nine games to accomplish that goal. The biggest challenges facing the Vols are Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and the matchup this weekend at Florida. They need every advantage they can get and an upset over Florida makes the path to a bowl game a little more navigable.
They’ll be in hostile territory. Ben Hill-Griffin stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the country. So a few early momentum plays will set the tone, but Tennessee will have to stay energized for all four quarters or the fans may become a factor in a close game putting the Vols at an even bigger disadvantage. Florida fans will be anxious to rally behind their backup quarterback as Feleipe Franks will not play having suffered a gruesome injury at Kroger Field on Saturday.
Momentum is what will win this game for Tennessee. It’ll be up to the staff to produce the opportunities and the players to execute them; something that was lacking in the first two games of the season.
Kickoff for the game is at 12:00ET Saturday.