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Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has words with an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

KNOXVILLE — A redshirt senior enjoying the next-to-last bye weekend of his college football career, Tennessee offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy was asked Tuesday how he spent this past Saturday.

Given that California governor Gavin Newsom now somewhat successfully has branded what Kennedy does as a job through the state's Fair Pay to Play Act, one might have thought he might have chosen an escape from his work.

Maybe take a hike in the Smoky Mountains. Go to a movie. Shop. Sleep.

"I watched football," he said with a smile. "I got to watch (ESPN's) 'GameDay.' Then I watched Alabama-Ole Miss and Auburn-Mississippi State."

Someone asked if he was taking notes, given that the Voluntees host Mississippi State in two weekends and travel to Alabama — where Kennedy transferred from — on Oct. 19.

some text Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee offensive linemen Jahmir Johnson (58), Trey Smith (73), Brandon Kennedy (55), Ryan Johnson (70) and Marcus Tatum (68) warm up before facing BYU during a NCAA football game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Knoxville, Tenn.

"Not really," he said. "I'm just focusing on Georgia."

With the Bulldogs listed third in the Associated Press rankings and having yet to allow a rushing touchdown all season, Kennedy's focus makes sense. Georgia is 4-0 for the season and coming off its own bye week. Tennessee is 1-3, without a single victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision foe.

"We're only a third of the way through," Kennedy rightly observed. "We've got eight games, and even more to improve. I definitely think (the bye week) helped us regroup. We were able to go back and practice the fundamentals, the little things and some of the things that we didn't do as well in the past three or four games we've played."

It is hard to look back on the first month of the season and find much this program has done well. Other than its 45-0 mashing of overmatched University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Vols have lost to a Georgia State team that since has lost 57-10 at Western Michigan and 37-34 in overtime at Texas State. They've fallen in double-overtime to a Brigham Young team that earlier lost 30-12 to Utah and since has been beaten 45-19 by Washington and 28-21 by Toledo.

As for the 34-3 loss at Florida, of the 14 defeats in the last 15 years that the Vols have faced the Gators, that blowout on Sept. 21 was the second worst.

"We just have to get rid of mistakes," said Vols redshirt senior linebacker Darrell Taylor. "The first game maxim is the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win, and I think if we can emphasize that we will win a lot more games than we've won already. Once we get rid of our mistakes, I think we will definitely put ourselves in a position to be very successful for the rest of the season."

Georgia would not seem the best opponent to post a win against. Yes, the Dawgs sort of struggled to subdue a then-seventh-ranked Notre Dame at home on the same day that UT was getting torched on the road at Florida. But UGA did beat the Irish in a contest that was probably a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10 on the hype meter.

Then again, Georgia's visits to Neyland have more than once pleasantly surprised the Big Orange Nation. In 2013, the first year Butch Jones was in charge of the Vols, they slipped into "smokey grey" uniforms and nearly slipped out with a win before falling 34-31 in overtime.

Better yet, in 2009, Lane Kiffin's lone year running the program, UT shocked the Bulldogs 45-19, the much-maligned (to that point) Vols senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton throwing for 310 yards and four touchdowns.

Could there be a similar surprise this season?

"Coach (Jim) Chaney's had a lot of input, having been at Georgia," Kennedy said of his offensive coordinator. "He's been very helpful, knowing what they're going to do."

some text Mark Wiedmer

If the three years Chaney spent running Bulldogs boss Kirby Smart's offense through last season is enough to upset Georgia, he'll be worth every bit of the $1.5 million he's making a year. In fact, if UT can upset Georgia, it can win enough games the rest of the way to more than cover that $1.5 million thanks to the bowl revenue it will earn.

But it's not just Chaney who is familiar with the Bulldogs program. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt was the defensive coordinator there in 2014 and 2015. Special teams/linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer was at Georgia through 2017. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker coached there from 2014 through 2016. Offensive line coach Will Friend also spent time there, as did tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer.

Yes, this still seems like a case of Georgia's Jimmys and Joes besting any X's and O's the UT staff can come muster, but it would at least seem to give them hope, if only because the UT players appear to view it that way.

Or as Taylor noted Tuesday, his voice full of passion and positivity: "As long as we stay on top of our game and play our best game on Saturday, and not make any mistakes and cause turnovers, I definitely think we'll have a possibility to win the game."

At this point, even a realistic possibility would project real progress on a season that has been anything but positive to date.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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