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Message to Tennessee fans: Don’t lose your minds over the next month

Things are going to get worse. Don’t jump off the deep end.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee’s best chance to win an SEC game — at least for the next month — has come and passed. The Vols self-destructed against the Florida Gators, turning the ball over six times. Tennessee stood on somewhat equal ground talent-wise with the Gators, according to most analysts. That’s still someone believable when you consider how many points Tennessee gift-wrapped to Florida.

This rebuilding program won’t have the luxury of following up a loss with ETSU and UTEP this time around. Up next for the Tennessee Volunteers? A trip to No. 2 Georgia, then a trip to No. 9 Auburn, followed by a visit from Alabama, the No. 1 team in the land.

Let us pray.

Even the biggest Tennessee optimist can’t paint you a picture of how that stretch ends well.

As fans, I think it’s important to keep your head through this stretch. Tennessee just isn’t ready to compete with teams like this yet. We saw the offensive line really struggle out of the gate against Florida. Well, unfortunately for the Vols, that may have been the least talented defensive front they’ll face in the next month.

The next three weeks probably aren’t going to be fun. That shouldn’t change your view on this rebuild. Quite honestly, this rebuilding job goes deeper than most imagined.

Meanwhile, Kirby Smart and Georgia are absolutely rolling. They’re just putting different levels of athletes on the field right now than Tennessee. A trip to Athens this week is definitely not what the doctor ordered for the Vols.

Assuming the worst, what should Jeremy Pruitt be looking for out of his team? For one, limiting the mistakes. These next three opponents are undoubtedly more talented than Tennessee right now. They don’t need any help. From the botched screen to the fumbled touchdown to the fumbled kickoff. Those things can’t happen anymore.

Beyond that, I’m looking for how these guys compete. Who is going to respond when you go out and get hit in the mouth? Are you going to lay down, or keeping competing? Jeremy Pruitt said he saw some positives in that department after the game against Florida this weekend.

“I saw guys that kind of had a look in their eye, competing. So that’s something we can build on,” Pruitt said. “Am I happy with how the game turned out? No. Okay, we’re trying to build a program here. It takes guys doing it the right way and doing it the right way all the time. I saw guys, I saw young guys who made mistakes early in the game, that I felt like have a little better look in their eye. Trying to compete, trying to finish.”

It’s probably going to be tough to gage progress over these next three games, but we should know a little more about this group by the time the second half of the season rolls around.

Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt look much better than previous years, to make things even worse. You just have to hope that enough progress is made on the practice field so Tennessee can compete for wins in those contests.

This is a pretty gloomy look at the rest of 2018, I know, but I think it’s important to make sure expectations are in the right place for the rest of the year. Better days are ahead, assuming Pruitt and his staff can finish 2019 out strong on the trail. But it’s about to get worse for the time being.

Keep calm — let’s roll with the punches and come out on the other side with a chance to win some ball games down the stretch.