The stretch of the next three games for the Tennessee Volunteers will define their season. At 4-5, the Vols need to win two more games to become bowl eligible. With games against No. 11 Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt to go, how will Tennessee fare?
Let’s see what some staff members of FOX Sports Knoxville think:
Ric Butler, Producer for “The Drive” and “Overtime”:
Don’t call it a heel turn, but I refuse to be in denial that Tennessee is a bad football team right now, like many of the Vol fans around town. When I look at these final three games of the season, I have very little hope for what it could end up being. Sure, Tennessee has a CHANCE of winning one or two games potentially, but after the regression of this team since playing Auburn, i have no reason to believe we will win even one of the next three games. it may be pessimistic, and that mindset is due to being beaten down as a fan time after time. But looking at it from an honest mindset, Kentucky and Missouri both have more talent than Tennessee, and I only choose Vanderbilt because I have to see Tennessee win again before I have the confidence to pick them. Sorry fellow Vol fans, I just don’t see another win this season.
Tanner Carson, Digital Editor/Host of “Overtime”:
A long season for the Vols still has a chance of ending on a high note. However, there will be some tough tests for Tennessee to pass and I am not sure if the current makeup of this team is capable of doing so. For Kentucky, it will be a trend-setter for the remaining two games. With a win, it’s possible that Tennessee finishes 7-5 and has a ton of momentum heading into 2019. With a loss, they could nosedive into another 4-8 year. Tennessee’s rush defense is porous and I don’t think the Vols’ offense can score enough on Kentucky to get a win. It will be competitive, but the Wildcats prevail 20-17.
For Missouri, this may be the worst matchup remaining. Drew Lock will be a highly-drafted quarterback and the Mizzou receivers will be the best overall group Tennessee has faced since West Virginia’s. Not to mention that Terry Beckner, Jr. is a pretty good force on the defensive line. Derek Dooley’s goofy ass will give Tennessee fans nightmares once again as his offense puts up good numbers and Tennessee can’t catch up. Mizzou wins 34-20.
Finally, it will be a trip to Neyland West as Tennessee ends the regular season playing at Vanderbilt. Kyle Shurmur is still the Dores’ QB and he’s still doing some alright things. He will look to torch Tennessee’s defense for the third year in-a-row, but I think Jeremy Pruitt ends his inaugural season with a win at the very least, because he knows how unkind the fanbase will be to him if he starts the year by losing to Kentucky AND Vandy. Tennessee wins 28-24 and ends the year 5-7. Progress?
A.J. Cook, Digital Contributor/Panelist for “Overtime”:
Tennessee vs. Kentucky
This has all the makings of another Tennessee heartbreaker. Kentucky is a team that, for all intents and purposes, Tennessee matches up well with. Kentucky has a plodding offense and a solid defense. Tennessee has a plodding offense and a sometimes-solid defense. Kentucky might be ranked #11 in the college football playoff polls, but Tennessee stands a chance. It’s an afternoon game in Neyland Stadium, after all, where Kentucky hasn’t won in over three decades. So Tennessee will keep it close, right?!?!
Doubt it. Tennessee has allowed on average 200 yards rushing to SEC opponents. Benny Snell is probably the best running back they will face this year, so look for him to get back on track after a rough couple of games. And with the way Tennessee’s offensive line has been performing this season, Kentucky’s defense, highlighted by defensive end Josh Allen, might finish with around 27 sacks and 14 forced turnovers.
Final Score Prediction: Kentucky 27-10 Tennessee
Tennessee vs. Missouri
Coming into the season, Missouri was thought by some to be a dark horse contender for the SEC East, due to their offense. And while expectations have certainly been tampered by their 1-4 start in conference play, they’re still a very good offensive team. They have dipped under 200 yards passing, 390 total yards, and 29 points in only two games this year; Alabama and Kentucky. Both of which happen to be top 15 defenses in the country. Outside of those two games, they have averaged around 43 points per game.
Depending on how the Kentucky game goes, Tennessee might come into this game with high spirits. But even then, it will be a feat to slow down this Mizzou offense. On the defensive side of the ball, Missouri is pretty average, so Tennessee should score more than they do against Kentucky. It still won’t be enough to get the win in the final home game of the season.
Final Score Prediction: Missouri 45-27 Tennessee
Tennessee @ Vanderbilt
As much as this hurts to type, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have been very comparable this season. They have both won the games they were supposed to win, and lost the games they were picked to lose. Along the way, they have both found ways to lose in close games that they just have easily could have won. To me, that means this will be a winnable game for Tennessee, regardless of how the previous two games go. Vanderbilt likely won’t win their two games before Tennessee, either, meaning this game will likely determine who finishes at the bottom of the SEC East. It’s also a home game for both teams in Neyland West.
Considering how similar these two teams are, the great decider will probably come down to coaching. And despite all of the struggles and issues Jeremy Pruitt has endured in his first season, I think he is still a better coach than Derek Mason.
Tennessee 31-21 Vanderbilt
Will Oakley, Digital Contributor
I think the future is bright for Jeremy Pruitt and this Vol’s, just not the immediate future. While this team has a lot to be excited about in the future, they face three solid teams to close out their inaugural campaign under Coach Pruitt. I see this Vol’s team going 1-2 during these final three games; losing to an top-ranked Kentucky team and surging Missouri team while picking up a win against a lackluster Vanderbilt side.
Logan Quinton, Digital Contributor:
It would be such an accomplishment for this team to go .500 on the year. Sure, they could potentially go bowling with just five wins, but six would be tremendous. It would mean that Pruitt would have pulled out two big wins in his first year, one on the road and one at home. I think the second comes this weekend against Kentucky. That would give the Vols two wins against ranked opponents.
I know it sounds crazy, but I actually think the Vols will have better success against the Wildcats as opposed to Missouri. Snell missing a half will be huge. As dynamic as he is, the running back has cooled off a bit in his last two games. Kentucky’s defense is really good, but I think Helton will find ways to move the chains. Vols win 23-20
Missouri, on the other hand will be more challenging if Dooley leaves the handcuffs off Drew Locke. The Tigers will have more success moving the ball against the Vols. Their defense has playmakers as well. Missouri wins 31-27
In all, I think the Vols find a way to go 2-1 down the last stretch. To put it in baseball terms, we are tied 2-2 in a seven game series with home field advantage. All the games left are winnable. I like our chances. Oh, and Vandy? Pruitt is not losing to Vandy. He will beat them 3-2 if he has to. But it won’t take that to get it done. Vols beat Vandy 17-13
Jon Reed, Host of “Talk Sports” and “Voluntary Reaction”:
To me, the Kentucky game dictates the rest of the season. If Tennessee wins on Saturday, I believe that 7-5 is firmly on the table. Likewise, if Kentucky comes into Neyland Stadium and wins for the first time since 1984, I think the Vols will head into Nashville for the season finale vs Vanderbilt in danger of back-to-back 4-8 seasons.
I assume Tennessee’s tackling will be better vs Benny Snell and Terry Wilson than it was against South Carolina. I expect Pruitt to have eight men in the box crowding the line of scrimmage. The Vols will win a defensive battle versus Kentucky. The win will serve as a springboard to a 7-5 finish.