By Luke Thomas
Tennessee’s 2019 season seemed to be left out to die in September after the Volunteers fell to 1-4 with losses to Georgia State, Brigham Young, Florida, and Georgia. The season seemed to be a wash, all hope was lost, and some even began to doubt Jeremy Pruitt’s qualifications to be the head coach in Knoxville. Under this situation, most teams would have crumbled and given up, but Pruitt continued to convey one of his salient principles to his team: “You have to find a way to win.” The Volunteers took their head coach’s advice to heart and resurrected their bowl hopes. Tennessee won their final 6 football games, including a thrilling come-from-behind win over Indiana in the Taxslayer Gator Bowl.
The season was so odd that we at Volunteer Roadshow were left wondering if there had ever been a season that compared to this one in the Volunteers’ 129-year history, so we consulted our expert Tennessee football historian, Alex Carter.
When asked if there was a season that he felt resembled the remarkable turnaround, he informed us that the 1994 season was one that may seem very familiar to Volunteer fans: “Most people would probably say the 1988 season, where they started 0-6 but won their final 5, but for me, I would have to say the 1994 season.” The 1994 season was Phillip Fulmer’s 2nd season as head coach of Tennessee, after taking over for Johnny Majors the year before, Tennessee finished the season 8-4.
Carter went on to inform us of some of the remarkable similarities between the two seasons, “Well, to start when you look at the coaches, both Fulmer and Pruitt were in their 2nd season as head coach, and of course, they both ended up winning the Gator Bowl.” Carter went on to inform us that both of the seasons had horrendously bad starts, “Of course they both had awful starts, in ‘94 they started 1-3 compared to 1-4 this season. Those kinds of starts are not easy to recover from but both of those squads overcame adversity.”
Carter continued to bring up more stunning similarities between the two seasons, and we were left dumbfounded by the amount of links that existed between the two seasons: “Both of the teams started four quarterbacks, Jerry Colquitt, Brandon Stewart, Todd Helton, and Peyton Manning in ‘94, and Guarantano, Maurer, Shrout, and Jennings this season.” Carter also informed us of the links between the SEC seasons, “They both finished 5-3 in the South Eastern Conference (SEC), which served as a surprise for both seasons.”
The links between the two teams go on, from both teams being heavily reliant on their defenses to both being crowned champions of the Gator Bowl, both teams were rarities in College Football as they both were able to successfully overcome adversity when most teams would wave the white flag.