Tennessee hasn’t earned a berth in a bowl game the last two seasons. In fact, the Vols have missed out on making it to postseason play in five of the last eight seasons and six of the last 11 years. But that’s not stopping one of UT’s players from feeling confident about the Vols making it back to a bowl game this upcoming season.
Redshirt senior outside linebacker Darrell Taylor isn’t shy about sharing his opinions. His colorful pre-game comments before the Battle at Bristol went viral back in 2016, launching the popularity of the phrase “WGWTFA.”
Though not nearly as brazen, Taylor’s comments at SEC Media Days this year again show his confidence not only in himself, but in his team.
Taylor was asked about the Vols’ ability to get to a bowl game in 2019 while in Hoover, Alabama for SEC Media Days. He didn’t hesitate in his response.
“We’ll definitely get to a bowl game,” Taylor said via quotes gathered by Saturday Down South. “That’s not a thing.”
While far from Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory, Taylor’s comments are still fairly bold considering the recent history of Tennessee football.
Two years ago, Tennessee slogged through the worst season in program history. The Vols lost eight games in a season for the first time ever, and they suffered the first winless SEC season in school history, too. Last year wasn’t too much better, as the Vols went 5-7 overall and 2-6 in SEC play in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as head coach.
But Taylor has seen a lot of improvement from his teammates this offseason, and that gives him plenty of reason to believe.
“We’re in so much better condition than we were last year. Our strength level is going up through the roof,” Taylor stated. “A lot of guys are lifting heavy weights in our weight room, and I think a lot of guys are moving a lot faster on the field.”
Last season, Taylor was the Vols’ best pass rusher, though he was far from the most consistent. The Hopewell, Virginia native totaled eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 12 games last season, but almost all his production came in just three games. Taylor tied a school record for most sacks in a game when he amassed four against Kentucky, and he totaled three and two forced fumbles against Georgia. Taylor also had a sack and made three tackles for loss against Vanderbilt.
All eight of Taylor’s sacks came in those three games, and nine of his 11 tackles for loss came in those three contests.
Consistency will be key for Taylor in 2019, and his head coach said as much on the main stage at SEC Media Days.
“I think last year he had nine sacks in three games,” Pruitt said on Tuesday. “That sounds really great. And of the things that I’m sure that he will tell you the reason that he came back, is where did those other nine games go? He’s a guy that’s worked extremely hard this offseason and provided great leadership.”
Taylor is confident enough to make public guarantees about Tennessee’s success for the upcoming season, but are his teammates?
“No, that’s not for me,” quarterback Jarrett Guarantano said when asked if he wanted to make a prediction about the Vols’ postseason hopes. “D.T. is a little crazy. I definitely love the confidence though. I appreciate my teammate for that.”
Confidence has never been an issue for Taylor, and it’s clear that remains true heading into his final season as a Vol. He not only has a lot of faith in himself and his teammates, but he’s placing a lot in his head coach, too.
“I think we’re as close as we’ve ever been to competing at the highest level because we have Jeremy Pruitt and our coaching staff behind us,” Taylor added, “and we have a lot of new players that are ready to work and put in a lot of work to make it to where we want to go.”
Last year marked the first time in Jeremy Pruitt’s collegiate coaching career that he wasn’t preparing for a bowl appearance in December. For Taylor, it was the second time in his four years at Tennessee that he missed out on a bowl game. The redshirt senior is determined not to let that happen for a third-straight year, and he has no doubt the Vols will end that drought.