Tennessee sixth-year senior center Brandon Kennedy didn't ascend to the role of offensive leader by dealing with simple situations, and there has been nothing easy about the 2020 football season for the Volunteers.
Victories over South Carolina and Missouri being abruptly replaced by lopsided losses to Georgia and Kentucky. No second-half points against the Bulldogs or Wildcats. Injuries to fellow linemen Jerome Carvin, Jahmir Johnson and Wanya Morris. A slew of instability at quarterback.
Oh, and a date this week with heavily favored Alabama inside Neyland Stadium.
"I would have to say it's been a roller-coaster," Kennedy said this week. "The thing we've tried to focus on this week is trying to figure out what we need to do to be successful and help this team and focus on our job and do what we can do. To be honest, I think we all can improve. I think we've all done some things well in these games and also didn't do some things well.
"That's kind of the difference between winning and losing. I'm very confident. In life and in sports, you always face adversity, and the biggest thing will be how we bounce back and how we approach this next game and the rest of the games."
Tennessee managed an anemic 84 yards during the second half of last Saturday's 34-7 home loss to Kentucky, the largest defeat ever for the Vols against the Wildcats in Knoxville. Yet the wrath in the days that have followed has been focused almost entirely on fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who had two interceptions returned for touchdowns against the Wildcats.
Redshirt sophomore J.T. Shrout briefly replaced Guarantano but had his lone attempt intercepted, and freshman Harrison Bailey entered in the fourth quarter for his first action with the Vols.
"The biggest thing that I've taken upon myself to do is just to provide a lot of uplift to the quarterbacks," Kennedy said. "We all trust and believe in every one of them, and we love them, and I've let them know that throughout this whole process and throughout all the games. Any one of them that they put behind me, I believe that they can do well, and if they want to watch film with me or if they have any questions about how we do things, whether it be protection, run game or anything like that, I'm here to help.
"In the end, it's all about us, and that's all we have. We have to stick together and come back so we can be successful."
It's that kind of selflessness that has helped Kennedy win over his second Southeastern Conference roster, having transferred from Alabama as a graduate student after the Crimson Tide's national championship run of 2017.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder from Wetumpka, Alabama, played just one game in 2018 before an injury ended his season, but he bounced back last year to start every game and consistently rank among the highest-graded linemen. His challenging journey plus his accomplishments both on the field and academically made him a favorite of fellow lineman Cade Mays, who transferred from Georgia in January and encountered obstacles in getting cleared by the NCAA and the SEC.
"BK is an older guy who was definitely a mentor to me when I got here," Mays said. "He welcomed me with open arms and just kind of showed me the road here. We've made a great bond since I've been here, and I'm really enjoying that."
Part of the adjustment for Mays was traveling to Athens two weeks ago to face his former team, with Kennedy having experienced the trip back to Tuscaloosa last year.
"To be honest, it's not as weird anymore," Kennedy said. "We played them last year, and I'm so far removed now in the three years that I've been here. It's almost normal when I go to prepare to play them."
Heading the front
Tennessee third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt believes things are off to a good start as far as his taking over the defensive line from Jimmy Brumbaugh, who was let go last weekend.
"We've probably had our best three practices of the year from the defensive front up there," Pruitt said. "We've got to play with more toughness and more effort. We've got to be able to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. We have not created a lot of negative plays with our front that we need to.
"We need to get more pressure up the middle without having to bring pressure. We've got a huge challenge this week with the guys that they'll be playing in front of, so it's a great opportunity for them."
Odds and ends
Alabama coach Nick Saban said defensive end LaBryan Ray and tight end Carl Tucker are questionable for Saturday, with Pruitt saying the same about Carvin, Johnson and Morris, linebacker Jeremy Banks and cornerback Alontae Taylor. ... Saban said there has only been one positive COVID-19 test among Tide players in the past three weeks.