Reeling Tennessee's open date comes at perfect time

The first 10 quarters of Tennessee's 2020 football season yielded a 31-27 win at South Carolina, a 35-12 pounding of Missouri and a 21-17 halftime lead at No. 3 Georgia.

The past 10 quarters for the Volunteers have contained Georgia's 27-0 second-half surge, the historically heinous 34-7 home loss to Kentucky and Saturday's predictable 48-17 humbling against longtime rival Alabama.

Seems like a good time to hit the pause button, and a pause button is what Tennessee has with this week's open date.

"An open date is always good, especially when you're in SEC ball, and in the case of this year, we have nothing but SEC ball," Tennessee senior defensive end Matthew Butler said Saturday night after the latest lopsided loss to the Crimson Tide saddled the Vols with a 2-3 record with five league contests to play. "We intend on winning the rest of these games, and that's whether we had this bye week or not."

Getting outscored 109-24 in the past 10 quarters will not allow Tennessee to take any momentum into this extra time. Perhaps the most optimistic way to spin this disastrous stretch is that the Vols committed seven turnovers in the six quarters before facing Alabama and that their result against the Tide was not drastically different from what others have experienced.

There is also the matter of going five weeks without a positive COVID-19 test, according to coach Jeremy Pruitt, so roster stability will be noticeably better compared to the preseason.

"I see a lot of guys who are trying really hard but are making mistakes," Pruitt said Saturday. "As coaches and players, we've got to go back and see how we can execute at a higher level. This next week will be a great opportunity. We've got a lot of really young players in our program who are trying really hard but haven't had a whole lot of chances to get in there and learn and create the right habits.

"This isn't what they came here for. These guys are hungry, and they want to improve. We've got a young team that's going to work hard, and we've got this last half of the season to show that."

Tennessee certainly has a recent example of finishing strong, with last season's Vols winning their final six games that included a 23-22 Gator Bowl topping of Indiana. The back half of this year's schedule is noticeably more difficult with tests against Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M, and with a tricky trip to Arkansas up next on Nov. 7.

When asked if this year's team has what it takes to repeat such a finish, junior cornerback Alontae Taylor said, "Most definitely. I felt like we had what it took to go undefeated this year, but that's not what has happened."

A second consecutive winning season is now the goal, with this week having to serve as the productive foundation.

"We're going to come back stronger," senior receiver Josh Palmer said. "We're going to make up for the time we lost to COVID in fall camp, and we're going to strain as hard as we can during these next two weeks of practice. I think we can finish this season strong, because we're a resilient team. We're not a team of quitters, and we showed that last year.

"Unfortunately, we have to show it again."

Taking some time

Pruitt was asked Saturday night why only Jalin Hyatt was getting significant playing time among the touted receiver signees.

"To play at a high level in this league, there is a lot of preparation and a lot of practice habits, and these guys are not there yet," he said. "They're not, and we'll give them an opportunity this next week, but they have to earn the right to play. The guys who are playing in front of them have earned it in practice.

"Just because you run fast or were so many stars coming out of high school - you have to earn it, and these guys will."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.