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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“What percentage does Tennessee have of pulling off a upset and breaking an 11 game sec losing streak?” – Jason
Nathanael: I would give them a 20-25 percent chance of pulling off the upset. I wouldn’t put it too high, but I definitely don’t think it’s unreasonable to think the Vols can beat Auburn this Saturday.
Ben: I’m giving the Vols a 30 percent chance of pulling off the upset. Not a great chance, but there’s at least a chance. All of the external factors are in Tennessee’s favor. I just don’t trust Tennessee’s offensive line to play well against one of the best defenses in the country.
“If we beat Auburn, do we get to roll Toomers corner instead?” – Andrew
Nathanael: I know Ben is planning on doing just that. Aren’t you, Ben?
Ben: Of course. I already have my toilet paper packed up and ready to roll. If Tennessee pulls off the upset, be sure to tune into the live feed of Toomer’s Corner shortly after the game, and you can catch me rolling the trees.
“Will weather be a factor?” – Janell
Nathanael: It doesn’t look like it. As of right now, the weather forecast is calling for no rain or anything from the hurricane to be coming through Auburn on Saturday. It’s supposed to be a near-perfect day for football on Saturday. The forecast is calling for 76 degrees and all sun.
“This team can’t win games only playing 1-1/2 quarters of offense…Have the slow starts by the offense been a point of focus during the bye week and prep this week?” – Robbie
Nathanael: It absolutely has. And you’re right Robbie, and I’ve said that multiple times over the past couple weeks. The Vols have been outscored 31-0 by Power Five opponents in the first quarter this season. Tennessee can’t keep starting off slow and expect to get a win in the SEC this year. They can’t keep playing from behind and burying themselves in holes.
Ben: Tennessee must get off to a fast start if it wants to pull off the upset against Auburn. It’ll be a late-arriving crowd that probably won’t be too energetic. If the Vols can jump on Auburn early, the crowd could be a non-factor for the majority of the game. That’s a huge plus for a team that has proven to be mentally weak at times this season.
“Does CJP make you believe he can do for the football program what Rick Barnes has done for the basketball program?” – Brian
Nathanael: I think it’s hard to predict that right now in Pruitt’s first year, but I do actually believe he’s capable of rebuilding the football program to at least respectability. Can he get it to the level that Barnes has the men’s basketball team right now? I’m not sure about that, especially given the climate of the SEC right now. Barnes has the basketball team looking like a potential Final Four contender this year in his fourth year at the head of the program. I don’t know if Pruitt will be able to get UT’s football program to challenge for the Playoffs in his fourth or even fifth season. I do think he’ll have Tennessee competing for the SEC East by that point, though.
Ben: I believe so. What makes Rick Barnes so good is that he is loved by his players, he can recruit, and he’s one of the better X’s and O’s coaches in the country. Jeremy Pruitt possesses all three of those traits. The jury is still out, but I do believe Pruitt possesses the tools to get the job done. My only question is, is he given enough time to do so? Barnes was allotted time to fix the program, but that’s a basketball program at a football school. Fans and administrators don’t have as much patience for football. It’s a minimum four-year rebuild, and it’s going to take time. I don’t know how much Pruitt will win at Tennessee, but I know he’ll win more than Derek Dooley or Butch Jones at their peak.
“Will the rebuild be more difficult for Coach Pruitt now than it was for Coach Majors when he took over for Bill Battle?” – Malcolm
Nathanael: That’s a very good question. I’ve talked to several different people who were Vol fans during the Battle and Majors years to try and figure that out myself. From what I’ve gathered, Majors inherited a very bad situation after Battle was let go. Battle took over and had immediate success because he rode the coattails of Dickey’s success. But he apparently, just like Butch Jones, let the offensive and defensive lines go in terms of recruiting and development. I think there was also a lot of culture issues back then, but maybe not as bad as they are now. I’ve also been told by everyone I’ve talked to that the SEC is much, much deeper and tougher now than it was back then when Majors took over. And even then, it still took Majors six or seven years to consistently start winning. So all in all, I do think Pruitt has a tougher rebuild ahead of him than Majors had.
Ben: I believe it will be. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as well-versed in the Majors era for the simple fact that I wasn’t even alive then. But I believe it’s a bigger rebuild for the simple fact that the conference is 10 times strong than it ever was when Majors was around. The top dogs in the conference have always been around, but like Nathanael said, the SEC is as deep as its ever been. On top of that, recruiting is as difficult as it’s ever been.
We got several questions asking about when J.J. Peterson will play and what kind of impact we think he’ll make.
Nathanael: According to a social media post Peterson made a couple weeks ago, it looks like his first game action could come against Alabama next weekend. As far as what kind of impact I expect from him right now: minimal. I don’t think you’ll see Peterson come in and immediately make a difference on defense. He’s likely only going to play in four games this season and take advantage of that new redshirt rule. I don’t foresee him racking up a lot of tackles or playing a lot of snaps really. I think you’ll see him get some action off the edge, but mostly I think he’ll be on special teams.
Ben: I think we’ll see Peterson towards the end of the month, maybe against Missouri. He’s just so far behind right now. Pruitt mentioned it earlier this week, Peterson is about where incoming freshmen would be the second week of July. Arriving the week of the West Virginia game destroyed the hopes of Peterson having an Alontae Taylor or Bryce Thompson-like impact during his freshman season. I’m interested to see how he fares throughout November against SEC competition and how much playing time he’ll receive. It’s hard for him to make a case right now to receive playing time over Daniel Bituli, Will Ignont, Quart’e Sapp, and Darrin Kirkland Jr.