KNOXVILLE — As the frustration over Tennessee's four-game football losing streak starts to boil outside of the program, those within the program are asking for just a little more patience.
The frustration is warranted: The Volunteers' skid has come against Missouri, Vanderbilt, Georgia State and Brigham Young. While each has been to at least one bowl game since the Vols' last appearance in 2016, none of those teams reach the level of the upper-echelon programs in the Southeastern Conference.
If there is a silver lining, it's that with the youth on the roster that continues to improve, the Vols' final 10 games of 2019 could be much better than the result of their first two.
The players believe it, too: Running back Ty Chandler told fans Saturday night that "we need you all, and I want you to keep coming out. This team is going to get better."
Said defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus, a converted tight end who had two sacks against BYU's Cougars: "Just bear with us. We are going to get better. Just keep coming out and supporting us."
With the right combination of "practicing the right way" and getting game repetitions, the players who have had costly struggles in the losses could grow from them and improve as a result. That's the team's expectation, anyway.
"I mean look at our football team, especially defensively," coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday. "Darrell Taylor, Daniel Bituli's not been out there, and the DBs — Baylen Buchanan has not been out there, you've got Nigel Warrior, Theo Jackson. There's not a lot of older guys on defense. A lot of youth. So these guys are coming into a program, probably a little bit overwhelmed a bit, trying to figure out exactly how a coach wants it done, learning what they're supposed to do. Also, learning how to practice to the standard and expectations, and then they have to learn what an opponent does.
"We're going to better at that every week. Every week, the game's going to slow down to them. We're going to create a little more depth, a little bit more competition. It's going to make us a better football team defensively. Same thing offensively. We've got some very good young prospects on offense and they're going to continue, as we go through this season, to do it the right way, to work at practice, to create the right habits.
"We're going to improve on both sides of the ball. Problem is, everybody else is doing the same thing we're doing. Hey, maybe, based off age, they're a little further along and don't have as far as they can go. We've got a long ways before we can hit our ceiling based off our football team. But we've got to work hard every week to continue to get there."
Some of those improvements were evident Saturday night. The Vols rushed for 242 yards in the loss to BYU after failing to top 100 against Georgia State. The defense improved, holding the Cougars to 339 yards of total offense. And mental mistakes were fewer but remained costly, such as the interception of quarterback Jarrett Guarantano in the third quarter that led to a BYU touchdown a few plays later.
The biggest mistake was allowing a 64-yard completion from BYU's Zach Wilson to Micah Simon in the final seconds of regulation that set up a game-tying field goal. On that play, Pruitt noted Saturday night that Alontae Taylor had played the wrong coverage, although he softened that stance some Monday to state that "we all need to be better." And Taylor is the one who chased down Simon to prevent a touchdown.
The loss continued a string of bad happenings for Tennessee's upperclassmen, who after seeing a nine-win 2016 have had a total of nine wins the past two seasons. They also went through the yo-yoing coaching search after the 2017 season, so there's been a sense of seeing enough to believe that good times are ahead.
"I've been through worse here," offensive lineman Marcus Tatum said. "We've all been through worse here. We've seen worse. Look at the positive. We fought; we just need to continue to fight, because it's really not the end. SEC play still hasn't started. We still have a lot of room to improve.
"We only have room to grow, and that's a good thing to look at."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.