Most fans knew that the 2018 season was going to be an enigma under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt. The Vols were coming off of the worst season in program history and there was nowhere to go but up.
The final definition of “up” was considered a one-game improvement, but that one-game improvement also included two pretty big conference wins. Tennessee went 0-8 in the SEC last season, so that was a big deal.
Let’s take a look at the best, not-so-best, and worst moments from 2018.
Wins over then-ranked #21 Auburn and #11 Kentucky.
Tennessee led throughout all eight quarters of both games and there was never really a moment where either lead was in doubt.
The Vols controlled the Tigers and the Wildcats. They did whatever they wanted to do on both offense and defense. Special teams played a big role in both of those games as well, including blocked kicks during both contests.
Tennessee forced six combined turnovers and made both Jarrett Stidham and Terry Wilson’s lives hell. Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive prowess was on full display and Vols fans were given a preview of what it looks like when his team fires on all cylinders.
Even though the running game struggled against Auburn, Tennessee ran for over 200 yards against a stout Kentucky defense. The Vols averaged over 400 yards of offense during both games.
It was close as you can get to a complete game in both instances. The fact that both wins came against ranked teams gives fans and alumni plenty of reason to be excited for the future.
Losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks and missing out on a bowl game.
The South Carolina loss was a tough one to swallow. Similar to Auburn and Kentucky, the Vols led for the entirety of the game, except this time they couldn’t hold on in the fourth quarter.
The defense was awful, allowing four straight scoring drives from the final drive of the first half until the final possession of the fourth quarter. They allowed 279 yards and 24 points on the last five possessions of the game after allowing just 112 yards and three points on the first four possessions.
And it’s not like the offense broke down or didn’t do their part. It was arguably the most complete offensive performance of the season for Tennessee. Five of the nine possessions went for nine plays or more and each drive took an average of 5:49 off the clock. The Vols held the ball for over 38 minutes.
It’s awfully ironic that Tennessee missed out on a bowl game by one loss. They shouldn’t have lost to the Gamecocks and they missed out on the postseason because of it.
The absence of a bowl game also takes away more practice opportunities for this team to get better. When a program is in a transition phase such as this, you need all the help you can get if you want to rapidly accelerate the growing process.
Hopefully the team and the coaching staff can use the game as a teaching moment to get better in the future.
Blowout losses to West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.
Soooo, yeah. There will be no blame passed around if you decide to skip this section.
This is where the season gets nasty. And not in a good way.
Tennessee was outscored 271-98 in these six games. That’s an average score of 45-16. Not one of these opponents scored less than 38 points.
They were (-8) in turnover margin, giving the ball away at least once in every game except for the one against the Mountaineers.
Outside of one half of the West Virginia game and one half of the Georgia game, Tennessee was destroyed. They looked like they didn’t even belong on the same field as these teams during parts of the game.
West Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama were expected. But getting the crap kicked out of you by Florida, Missouri, and Vanderbilt will ruin any season for the Vols.