Tennessee’s loss to Missouri on Saturday has lowered their record to 7-3 and dropped them to 21st in the AP College Football Poll. Next up is a daunting foe – the undefeated Georgia Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff poll, which will be reset on Tuesday.
With the Bulldogs heavily favored, the Vols could be 7-4 this time next week. What does this say for the program as a whole? Should the fans be worried that the Vols are veering way off course? On the latest “That Sunday Show with Fred White”, former Tennessee safety Fred White reminded us that things could be and have been much worse.
“I’m not concerned. I still know we’re going in the right direction,” White said when asked about the team under Coach Josh Heupel’s leadership.
White recalled the lean years between the departure of coach Phillip Fulmer and the introduction of coach Josh Heupel before the 2021 season, which led to a monumental 11-win run in 2022. Before that, the Vols hadn’t won 10 or more games in a season since 2007.
“I remember that far back,” White said. “I remember having people come up to me at restaurants or walking down the street asking, ‘What do you think about last night?’ We got beat repeatedly by teams we should have never lost to. I would take the last two or three years over any of the last ten.”
Though the 2023 season isn’t as stellar as the fans would have hoped, White remains positive about the team.
“I’m optimistic about what we have on the field. I’m optimistic about all the young guys we have too,” said White. “(Sophomore defensive lineman) James Pearce is just scratching the surface. (Sophomore defensive end Joshua) Joseph is just scratching the surface. If we can possibly keep a few guys who have one last Covid year… we’re still building in the right direction.”
Even with the optimistic outlook, White still recognizes the limitations the current Vols have. “I still don’t think we have the depth to go player-for-player with Georgia or Alabama or some of those teams that have haven’t had the attrition we’ve had.”
So, what can this current roster do to move the needle in the right direction? Study, study, study.
“Focus on learning the game,” advised White. “Focus on learning and seeing things on film that you didn’t see before. That’s how you grow in the game. The knowledge.
“Anything you’re doing in life, you’ve got to figure out how to study and learn something about it,” White continued. “What I knew as a freshman and what I knew as a sophomore (were) completely two different things. And what I knew as a senior versus those two years is completely different.”
Beating top ranked Georgia will be no easy feat, but there’s always a reason to be hopeful.
“(The Bulldogs) won the last two national championships and haven’t been beaten, but they haven’t played the talent or the teams that some of the other schedules have shown to be stronger,” said White. “This year, how good are they? I don’t see them being as good as they were the last two years.”
That should give Tennessee fans hope despite what happened to the Vols on Saturday.