Column: November Will Define Year One Under Pruitt

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    “They always remember what you do in November.”

    That phrase was repeated often by former Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer, and it’s particularly true this season. In Fulmer’s time, the Vols often won and won big in the month of November, and it spurred them on to compete for titles multiple years. In fact, UT’s football program as a whole has been very successful in the final month of the regular season, going 322-129-21 all-time in the month of November dating back to the 1890s. Of the three months in which the regular season typically takes place (September, October, and November), that’s the Vols’ best winning percentage in any month in program history.

    This year, the Vols won’t be trying to use a big November to compete for a title. But this final month of the season will define the first year of Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure at Tennessee.

    Tennessee currently sits at 3-5 through eight games this season, and they need to win at least three of their four games in November if they want to earn a bowl berth. Getting to a bowl game for Pruitt in his first year at the helm would be huge considering where UT’s football program was when he took over almost 11 months ago.

    When Pruitt was hired on to become Tennessee’s next head football coach, the Vols were coming off a tumultuous offseason and an even worse football season. Tennessee had stumbled to the worst season in school history, losing eight games and going winless in SEC play for the first time ever. And the headlines off the field were just as bad as the ones about what was happening on it.

    Most national, regional, and even local analysts didn’t expect Pruitt and the Vols to make much noise in 2018. But a strong November could prove all of those doubters wrong.

    Tennessee has already made it through their gauntlet in 2018. They were trounced by Florida in a turnover-laden game, took a beating by Georgia, got annihilated by Alabama, and lost a close game on the road to South Carolina. But sprinkled in between all those losses was a surprising 30-24 upset victory over Auburn on the road in the second week of October.

    That win has helped Tennessee not have to win out just to get to a bowl. It bought them a little breathing room for November, but the margin of error is still incredibly thin for a Vols’ squad hoping to make the postseason.

    The Vols have several questions to answer as they enter November: How do they respond after facing a grueling beginning to their SEC schedule? Has the culture changed enough for the Vols to not get knocked down when they face adversity? Can Tennessee’s defense, and more importantly Pruitt’s defense, show some growth and slow down the powerful rushing attacks they’re going to face in this last month of play?

    Getting to a bowl game would be a monumental selling point for Pruitt and his staff on the recruiting trail, and it would give this current roster another month of practices to continue to develop. Not only that, but it would immediately buy him and his staff some equity with a UT fanbase that’s been starved for real coaching and actual progress.

    If Tennessee doesn’t get to a bowl game this season, it’s not the end of the world, nor does it prove that Pruitt can’t cut it as a head coach. But missing out on the postseason for a second straight year would be a big disappointment, and it would fail to move the needle much after Pruitt’s first year leading the program.

    Making a bowl game would show that’s Pruitt’s way is working, and it would display to all that he and his staff have been able to flip around the culture of the program in less than a year. That’s real progress Tennessee fans can get behind.

    Tennessee has to face a tough-nosed Charlotte team to start the month, take on a nationally ranked Kentucky team, host a potent Missouri offense, and close out the month by taking on a Vanderbilt squad that will be plenty motivated to take down their rivals to the east. Nothing is guaranteed at all for the Vols as they try and close out the final month of play with a strong showing.

    People remember what you do in November, and Vol fans will definitely remember this November if Jeremy Pruitt can take this Tennessee squad to a bowl game.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.