At this point, everybody simply wants to play.
Tennessee and No. 23 Auburn are scheduled to meet Saturday night inside Jordan-Hare Stadium after having football games this past weekend postponed due to coronavirus outbreaks within the rosters of their opponents. The Volunteers were supposed to host No.5 Texas A&M, while the Tigers had to halt a visit to Mississippi State.
The Southeastern Conference scratched four of its seven games last week, and a season-high 15 Bowl Subdivision games were either canceled or postponed.
"Obviously we can't predict the future," Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday afternoon on his weekly Zoom call. "I believe we all knew when we started this that the players and coaches knew there were no guarantees. I've been really proud of our football team and the way they've stayed positive through the circumstances, and I think that says a lot about them as people and about their character.
"They're excited about this opportunity Saturday, and hopefully they'll get a chance to play."
Words such as "scheduled" and "chance" are being used like never before in college football, with the SEC announcing Monday that this week's Ole Miss-Texas A&M game in College Station is being postponed due to lingering concerns with the Aggies.
Tennessee is hoping this week's journey can halt a four-game slide that began Oct. 10 with a 44-21 loss at Georgia. Auburn is wanting to reclaim its momentum from its most recent appearance, a 48-11 shellacking of LSU on Halloween.
That's right, Auburn has yet to play in November.
"It's going to be 21 days since the last time we played by the time Saturday gets here," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "It's game week, and we're back in a routine, and that's really exciting for our players and for our coaches. We knew this was going to be a unique year, and we knew there were going to be some challenges.
"This is one of them."
Auburn revealed last week that 10 players had tested positive for COVID. Malzahn said Sunday night that some of those players would return this week but that "we won't have everybody back."
Tennessee's most recent outing was its 24-13 loss at Arkansas on Nov. 7, when starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's head hit the turf hard after a third-quarter scramble. Pruitt said that Guarantano practiced for the first time Sunday since that setback and that Harrison Bailey, Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout used their increased opportunity time in practice to their advantage.
Pruitt believes that Bailey's command of the offense really improved.
"We'll see how the rest of the week goes here," Pruitt said. "I was really excited about how these other guys continue to work, and I thought Jarrett had a good day yesterday. There seems to be a little more confidence offensively on how to execute at a higher level."
Auburn holds a 28-22-3 series edge against Tennessee and downed the Vols six straight times until Tennessee registered a 30-24 upset two years ago at Jordan-Hare against the No. 21 Tigers. Malzahn believes the Vols are plenty capable of pulling a repeat.
"When you turn the film on, you can see that there is talent really on both sides of the football, and it's some really good talent," Malzahn said. "It's just a matter of getting things together. They've had an off week to prepare just like we have, and we're expecting to get their best.
"They're better than their record has shown. They're a talented team."
Story hasn't ended
Pruitt opened Monday's news conference by discussing the news from late last week in which eight members of his staff were offered voluntary pay cuts last month to help stem financial losses within the athletic department as a result of the coronavirus but declined. Only running backs coach Jay Graham and receivers coach Tee Martin, the two former Vols players on the full-time staff, accepted reductions in salary.
"When you talk about contracts, the situation is fluid," Pruitt said, "and I know the men who are in this building and where their hearts are at. All I can say is that the final chapter has not been written on that."
Pruitt said he didn't sit down with any assistant specifically to discuss the requested pay cuts but knew they were being approached.
"There will be opportunities to make adjustments as we move on," Pruitt said.
Tennessee senior defensive back Shawn Shamburger will not play the rest of the season in order to focus on classroom responsibilities.
"He is working on academics," Pruitt said. "This has been a very unusual circumstance, trying to do things from home, so he's going to focus on his academics the rest of the semester."
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder from Mobile played against Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama this season, compiling nine tackles and earning the start against the Crimson Tide. Shamburger mostly played the star position last year, when he racked up 47 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception.
Next week's game between Tennessee and Vanderbilt in Nashville will have a 7:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff on SEC Network Alternate.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.