RTI contributor Murphy Carlton is the author of this article
Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols found a way to win their fourth-straight game and their fifth out of their last six games as they topped Missouri 24-20 on the road in Columbia on Saturday night.
The win also granted the Vols bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016, ending a multi-year drought of postseason play for Tennessee.
While this season didn’t start off like the Vols would’ve liked, they have an opportunity to end the season with a 7-5 record and a trip to a decent bowl game after starting off the year with a 1-4 record.
After the win against Missouri, Pruitt was asked what he thought the turning point was for his team. He talked about a meeting he led after the Florida game, a game the Vols lost 34-3. Tennessee left Gainesville with a 1-3 record, and hopes seemed low for the Vols’ chances of putting together anything resembling a successful season.
“I led (the meeting). At the stadium in Gainesville, I was pretty direct with them,” Pruitt explained to reporters after Tennessee’s win over Missouri. “I wasn’t very happy with the way we played that day. We were better than that. You’re only good as what you put on the field.”
Pruitt wasn’t pleased with the way his team had started the season, and he wanted to make sure they knew how he felt.
“I was frustrated,” Pruitt continued. “So I had a chance to think about it on the plane ride back. I’m sure the players thought about what we talked about in the locker room. Then, I wanted to share another message with them.”
The message Tennessee’s second-year coach delivered to the team was not one filled with frustration and disappointment; instead, Pruitt shared a message of belief and determination to right the ship and get back on track.
“The fact that I believed in them (is what he shared),” Pruitt said. “We’re better than what we’re showing, and I wanted to lay out a way that we could get to this point. And we’ve done that.”
Pruitt providing reassurance to his team that he believed in them might have been exactly what the Vols needed to hear, as his team has gone 5-2 in the seven games following the meeting. Tennessee has won four-straight games and have a chance to end the regular season on a five-game winning streak if they can defeat Vanderbilt next weekend on Senior Night in Knoxville.
Though the season didn’t begin how everyone wanted, Pruitt praised his team for not turning on each other and fighting through the adversity.
“Everyone has all these dreams of what’s going to happen as the season starts. It didn’t happen that way for us,” Pruitt explained. “A lot of that was self-inflicted on us. (That) falls back on me. But these guys stuck together. Everybody in our organization.
“It says a lot about who they are, the character, who raised them. And it says a whole lot about the future of our program.”
The Vols have a chance to continue this hot streak as they will wrap up the regular season at home against in-state rival Vanderbilt on November 30th. If the Vols get the win against the Commodores, it will ensure Tennessee’s first winning season since 2016.
After starting the year 1-4, a winning season seemed like a dream. Now, it’s a reality.