Tennessee made it very clear that they had left the heartbreak they suffered last week in Athens when they lost their first game of the season to Georgia.
The Vols weren’t lamenting any mistakes from last week when they bolted out of the gate to a 28-14 lead against Missouri on Saturday. It was obvious on the first drive. Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren could have easily gone out of bounds after a catch, but he wanted to hit some people – and did – before he was finally tackled by a host of Tigers.
Perhaps Tennessee was overmatched against Georgia in talent or coaching, but these Vols don’t get outdone when it comes to their mental approach. That was obvious when the Vols beat Florida and Alabama early this season. In those games, the Vols had to overcome a Florida comeback and a fourth-quarter fumble against Alabama that resulted in a touchdown. The Vols could have folded in either matchup. However, their mental toughness was too much for either team earlier this season and much too much for Missouri in a 66-24 win against the Tigers.
The score, stats and individual performances are all what makes this Tennessee team so good. However, the Vols mental fortitude is what makes them special and incredibly easy to root for. There are plenty of teams that slip up, lose a game and fold. There’s no reason to think that the Vols will be one of those teams. They’re simply too tough for that. They believe in themselves too much for that.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s decision to go for it on fourth down in the first quarter was an indication that the Vols weren’t going to lose any of their edge just because they don’t still have a perfect record. Heupel believes that his offensive players can win one-on-one battles despite what happened against the Bulldogs. He’s also confident that his defense doesn’t need to be coddled.
The rain, the Georgia loss and a drop in the College Football Playoff ranking would have tested a team with less mettle. This team didn’t flinch.
The Vols have two games remaining this season. Both are on the road. The College Football Playoff committee could do something goofy for television rankings and disrespect the Vols. Stranger things have happened. However, it really doesn’t matter.
This Tennessee football team won’t care what the College Football Playoff says about them. They won’t flinch away from Neyland Stadium when they play South Carolina and Vanderbilt in the next two weeks. Sure, that’s not a bold claim. The Vols will be double-digit favorites, are more talented than both teams and are, quite simply, better. That’s not the reason they’ll win and close out the season at 11-1.
Tennessee will win its final two games because of its mental toughness. If that hasn’t become evident by now, you haven’t been watching.