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Tennessee facing a critical moment after taking worst loss in program history

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Unpacking the worst day in Tennessee football history.

NCAA Football: Georgia State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

What can we even say anymore?

That’s the line that kept coming back to me as I stared at my computer wondering how on earth Tennessee had managed to hit its latest low. That new low — a 38-30 loss in the home opener to Georgia State — has derailed the 2019 season before it really even began.

Tennessee looked lifeless, uninterested, unprepared, out-coached... you get it. You saw it.

The Volunteers have taken some ugly losses — the 2008 loss to Wyoming immediately comes to mind. Those older than me can certainly point out more.

But this one felt different. It happened at the beginning of a new season — year two of Jeremy Pruitt. Tennessee is naturally supposed to get better during this season. 17 starters returned, four top 50 prospects are being added into the mix and expected to play early and often. A now junior Jarrett Guarantano should take steps forward.

On the surface, this all should work. A veteran SEC staff with an upgrade at offensive coordinator in Jim Chaney. A group of seasoned defensive assistants, spearheaded by the head coach Jeremy Pruitt. A total financial commitment to the program, one of the best fanbases in the country, incredible facilities. All that’s left to do was to rebuild the roster, which felt like it was well underway after a very successful 2019 recruiting cycle.

You could make the case for Tennessee taking a few steps forward this year. Many did — but Tennessee came out on Saturday afternoon and looked worse than they did at any point in the 2018 season.

Is it possible that Tennessee got worse? If so, how?

Most Tennessee fans had accepted that this was probably another building block year. That idea is now totally out of the question now, barring some wild upsets.

This was the worst loss in Tennessee’s decorated history, simply because of the perceived trajectory of the program. All of this building, recruiting, culture change seems like a waste right this second.

What’s the point? Where has it gotten us? Right back to square one — actually, we’re behind square one.

How much more can a fanbase realistically take? We’re talking about a decade of futility now. Tennessee fans still packed the stadium for 5-7 seasons with hopes of a bright future. That won’t last forever. We saw 85,000 in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. A now seemingly imperative BYU matchup may produce the same numbers. But what happens if Tennessee loses that game too? How many show up to watch Tennessee play Chattanooga?

Where do we go from here? How much more can we take?

Tennessee football fans have become indifferent. I saw a lot of upset people last night, but alarmingly, I saw plenty who had already checked out long before the clock struck zero.

And who can blame them? Losing to Georgia State is one thing, but the way it happened was another. There wasn’t an ounce of fire on that sideline on Saturday afternoon. The Tennessee staff didn’t seem interested in changing the course of the sinking ship in front of them. There didn’t seem to be any emotion during or after the game. A stoic Jeremy Pruitt accepted the blame at the podium, but didn’t exactly seem to grasp the importance of the moment.

Tennessee is supposed to compete with Georgia, Florida and Alabama for SEC titles. Before Saturday, you could talk yourself into seeing a path back to that prominence in a few years. After Saturday? All hope is lost.

You can call for Jeremy Pruitt’s head all you want — I get it. But who are you going to get? Can anyone save this? Does anyone want this? Are we really going back to ground zero again?

I’m hesitant to say this is rock bottom with a game against Chattanooga coming up on the schedule, but I’ve never been less confident in this program before.

Selling hope is no longer an option for Tennessee. Jeremy Pruitt needs results, and he needs them starting next weekend. Suddenly, a matchup against BYU feels like a must win for the program.