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Renovation of UT football is going to be a process

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Well, at least it’s over.

Tennessee’s first season under head coach Jeremy Pruitt has ended with an ignominious 38-13 loss to Vanderbilt, dropping UT to 5-7 overall and dead last in the SEC East for the second straight year.

Meanwhile, since the Vols will be sitting at home this December, Vanderbilt will go bowling. The ‘Dores get a spare and the Vols get the gutter ball.

Henceforth, Vandy is now, officially, Big Brother in the Volunteer State. How can you argue against that? The Commodores have scored 104 points and churned up 1,616 yards in those three games. The ‘Dores have dominated the Vols in a series where the Vols had surrendered just nine wins to their in-state rivals from 1927 to 2004.

Since 2005, Vanderbilt has vanquished the Vols six times. In 1926, then-chairman of Tennessee’s athletic council Nathan Dougherty told then-Captain Robert Neyland to “even the score with Vanderbilt,” who had overwhelmed Tennessee 19-2-3 from 1892 to 1927.
Now you wonder who has evened the score?

Sure, the Vols still own the series 75-33-5, depending on which media guide you read. But right now, it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Give credit to Vanderbilt. It had the superior team Saturday. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur’s 31-35 for 367 yards and three TDs was unbelievable. He was in the zone and completed his first 16 passes. He was lucky, but he was good, too. Tennessee didn’t have an answer for Vandy. Tennessee didn’t have any solutions on offense, either. Why did the Vols insist on throwing the ball when the ground game was working well?

Just a thought.

This was an embarrassing performance by any standard. And it was done at the program with the worst resources and the smallest venue in the SEC. An announced crowd of 35,887 watched the debacle, perhaps, most of whom were wearing orange.

Sure, there are those who still point to Tennessee’s victories at Auburn and against visiting Kentucky as significant victories. The fact that the Vols are one win better than last season suggests progress. But are the Vols really that much better than a year ago? Mizzou beat UT by the same 50-17 margin and Vanderbilt claimed another lopsided victory over the Little Orange.

You could make a case that the Vols aren’t much better.

But you can’t put that on Vol coach Jeremy Pruitt. Renovating the culture from one of a soft, okay-with-losing zeitgeist to one of those who hate losing is going to be a more difficult process than originally thought.

Starting now, Pruitt is going to have to weed out the ones who haven’t completely bought in. And he can’t be nice about it. Unraveling the lackadaisical knot left by Butch Jones and staff, and his cast of American Athletic Conference talent, will take a lot of time. Probably more than the already impatient fan base wants to acknowledge.

Starting in the next few weeks, you’ll probably hear about departures, coaching changes and a few other policy alterations. Things need to change. With Pruitt, I’m confident they will.

Unfortunately, just not quick enough for the Big Orange fan base.

Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on WRJB 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.

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