Tennessee trusted quarterback Joe Milton and an overhauled offense to lead the Vols to a repeat of last season. That all ended against Missouri.
Any hope that the Vols had to remain in the conversation for the College Football Playoff is officially over. Sure, it was a long shot for the Vols to be selected as one of the best four teams in college football, but it was still possible until the Vols fell short against the Tigers 36-7 on Saturday.
Tennessee still has two games left – against Georgia and Vanderbilt – remaining on the schedule, but this much is known: The Vols won’t be sporting any championship rings from this season. That, however, doesn’t mean all is lost. Tennessee can still have every bit as memorable season as they had last year by doing just one simple thing: beat Georgia. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much.
Losing to Missouri won’t sit well with Tennessee’s coaches, players or fans during the offseason, unless the Vols can beat Georgia, who they’ll host at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. If Tennessee can beat the Bulldogs, then no one will remember what happened in Columbia, which amounted to the Vols not showing up in the Show-Me State.
A win over Georgia would be tantamount to beating Alabama last season. It would be the memorable moment Tennessee fans would like to tuck in their backpack after a season with some rather forgettable road trips, such as trips to Florida, Alabama and Missouri that resulted in three SEC losses.
A win over Georgia, which happens to be the No. 2 team in the nation and the preeminent program in college football currently, would help Tennessee fans forget about their team’s woeful performance at Missouri, which included a sputtering offense and an inconsistent defense.
A win over Georgia would also provide Tennessee fans with some belief that Heupel was the main reason for the Vols’ resurgence in 2022, not guys named Hooker, Hyatt or Wright. With the latest loss, there’s reason to wonder aloud if last season was more about talent than coaching. A win over Georgia would also lend credence to Heupel’s decision to stick with Milton as the Vols’ starter instead of opening up a quarterback competition with supposed freshman phenom Nico Iamaleava.
A win over Georgia would also be a forceful reminder that Heupel is much more successful at home than on the road. Of Heupel’s 11 losses at Tennessee, seven have come while traveling. That’s something that needs to be addressed, but not this season. Just beat Georgia at home and the Missouri game will be forgotten. Sure, that is a tall task, but so was expecting Tennessee to repeat what they accomplished last season.