SEC East rivals Missouri and Tennessee had nightmarish first weeks of the college football season, losing to Wyoming and Georgia State respectively.
The Tigers rebounded nicely in Week 2 to thrash West Virginia while the Vols somehow lost again, allowing BYU to steal a 29-26 victory in Knoxville with the help of a last-second bomb.
Mizzou has a chance to roll on to a 6-1 start with four more games on this homestand followed by a game at Vanderbilt. And Tennessee could go 1-6, given the harsh schedule turn awaiting them.
The Vols have Chattanooga at home next, but then they go to Florida and return home to face Georgia during the next two weeks. After playing Mississippi State at home, they must travel to Alabama.
Beleaguered Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt used an unfortunate analogy while summing up the state of his team to the Knoxville Quarterback Club Monday.
"I think 'Titanic' came out maybe when I was in college," Pruitt said. "When the boat starts going down, remember all those mice running to the top, right? We have had a few that's left our program, but you will figure out who wants to be a Tennessee Vol and who don't.
"I can tell you this: I want to. I know the standards and expectations that we have and the men on our staff and the character that we have. You will see the best of the players at Tennessee throughout the year."
Excuse fans and media types for expressing skepticism. Losing to Georgia State, a bad Sun Belt team, was bad enough.
Then the Vols had BYU beaten . . . and somehow allowed a desperate 64-yard completion that set up the field goal that forced overtime and led to the eventual OT loss.
That prompted speculation that athletic director and former coach Phil Fulmer would come down from the executive suite and take back the coaching reins if things got any worse.
But Pruitt is plowing forth, undaunted.
"The way I look at this, the last two weeks are over with," Pruitt said. "We had 60 minutes to change the last two Saturdays at Neyland Stadium. We have to move forward. Did we improve the first week to the second week? Absolutely. We have to continue to do that because we have a young, inexperienced football team.
"We have a very high ceiling and we are not there yet — a very high ceiling. We are going to continue to improve and get better. We have lots of opportunities this season. It will be on us to create those opportunities."
Good luck with that.
THE GRIDIRON CHRONICLES
Here is what folks were writing about the plight of the Vols:
Dan Wolken, USA Today: "If you have a Tennessee fan that you care about in your life, what do you even say at this point? No program in recent college football history has perfected the art of delivering unique gut punches to its fan base like the Vols, who followed the Week 1 loss to Georgia State by blowing a game to BYU that was practically impossible to lose. Even the most cynical Tennessee fan had to think this was over with 17 seconds left because the only thing that could beat them at that point with BYU stuck on its own 20-yard line and no timeouts was something crazy improbable. But with the Vols, the improbable is all too realistic — in the absolute worst way. Sure, it took multiple mistakes by Tennessee’s secondary to allow BYU to pull off a 64-yard pass play and a tying field goal, and certainly Jeremy Pruitt and his staff are going to work to correct those mistakes because that’s what coaches do. But fans look mostly at the big picture — and right now, after a 29-26 double overtime loss to BYU, there’s bad mojo at every turn and it builds on itself until either the dam breaks or something reverses it. The problem for Tennessee is that there was no reward for playing harder and better, and with a monster schedule, 0-2 could easily turn into 1-6."
Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports: "The Volunteers had put in 59 minutes and 44 seconds of work into moving past the debacle against Georgia State. They had BYU in a damn near a no-win situation: third-and-6 on its own 20-yard line with just 16 seconds left, no timeouts, offense seemingly in disarray. That’s when the Tennessee secondary inexplicably broke down, resulting in the kind of play that will populate Big Orange nightmares for years to come. Cornerback Alontae Taylor allowed receiver Micah Simon to run scot free deep down the sideline, the absolute one thing he could not do. Quarterback Zach Wilson stuck the fairly easy throw, Simon swerved past a late-arriving safety and gained 64 yards on the play. The Cougars rushed up to spike the ball, then narrowly made the tying field goal with a second left in regulation. BYU won it in double overtime. And Tennessee is 0-2 for the first time since 1988. 'Really, you start wondering how you lose that game,' coach Jeremy Pruitt said afterward. Tennessee has lost nine games now in Pruitt’s 14 as head coach. And the best opponents are all still ahead of this year’s team. Without a substantial upgrade in performance, the Vols seem fully capable of recording their first season of fewer than four wins since — yikes — 1924."
Pete Fiutak, College Football News: "Really … why isn’t Tennessee better at this? There’s the general assumption that the program is supposed to be among the powerhouses of powerhouses, mainly because it’s bound by next to nothing. The facilities are there, the revenue isn’t an issue, the fan base will put over 100,000 butts in the house even if the team is merely showing promise, and recruiting has never been a problem. But now we’re working on the 12th year since the Vols went to an SEC Championship, and most of this year’s freshman class wasn’t even born the last time the program was legitimately in the national championship chase back in 2001. The last time Tennessee won the SEC Championship was … 1998. It was the year it won the national title, and it was the first year of the BCS – and CFN, BTW. Had there been a College Football Playoff in the mid-1990s, the Vols likely would’ve made it in 1995, 1997 and 1998, but … We’re talking about the 1990s here. No one cares. You ready for pain? Since 2008, Tennessee has as many bowl wins as Vanderbilt. And it gets worse. After last week’s loss to BYU, Tennessee has gone 9-17 since opening up the 2017 season with a thrilling win over Georgia Tech. Over that time, the Vols have a grand total of two wins over Power Five programs. And it gets even worse than that. Even with the losses to Georgia State and BYU, Tennessee barely gets on the radar to be among the nation’s biggest early disappointments, mainly because no one really expected anything in the first place. It’s not like the SEC needs Tennessee to be a powerhouse again, but it would sure be nice if there were some realistically decent expectations going forward. This isn’t a zero sum game when it comes to bringing in the talent – it’s possible for Florida, Georgia and Tennessee to all be outstanding at the same time. How much more fun would it be if the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry meant something again? For those of a certain age who remember when they ruled the world, how crazy were the massive fan bases when Florida-Tennessee was among the three must-see games of the season? Come back soon, Tennessee. College football misses you."
Clay Travis, Outkick the Coverage: "How bad’s it going to get? Probably pretty bad this year. The question is, will the young talent start to develop and show some flashes down the stretch run of the season when Tennessee plays a series of teams it can beat? Or will the team curl up in the fetal position and take their beatings? One analogy here, in Phil Fulmer’s second season as Tennessee coach the Vols started off 1-3 with losses to UCLA, Florida, and Mississippi State. (They somehow beat Georgia in here). The third loss to Mississippi State saw the debut of a guy named Peyton Manning. If anyone knows what it’s like to face down a really tough start, it’s Fulmer. Remember, Jeremy Pruitt was 100%’s Fulmer’s hire. He picked him. We’ll see where things go from here, but this hire is on Fulmer so he needs it to work out."
"I've been through worse here. We've all been through worse here. We've seen worse, so it's just look at the positive. We fought. We just need to continue to fight."
Tennessee offensive tackle Marcus Tatum, after the BYU loss.