After another loss to Tennessee and Rutgers, who hung out with Michigan, reminders began to flood Twitter.
Remember, they said, Tennessee could have Greg Shiano instead of Jeremy Pruitt. A line of laughter here.
But here’s the truth: Shiano wasn’t right for Tennessee. In 2017, it was not suitable and now it is not suitable. The Jersey-born is the ideal option for Rutgers, where the bar for success is low and just being competitive against Michigan is a positive. He is a well-known name among high school students in New Jersey, loved by well-shod boosters, and has already had success with Rutgers in selling them to recruits. He didn̵
The problem for Tennessee now is that Pruitt doesn’t seem right either.
Tennessee took an early 10-0 lead against Auburn on the road to a 30-17 loss to give the volunteers their fifth straight loss. Even in the very depths of the Derek Dooley and Butch Jones eras in Knoxville, there were five losses from five games. All the bad figures from Pruitt’s tenure were there on Saturday: critical QB errors, poor play in the second half and more questions about the ineffective coaching strategy.
Pruitt again defended quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and offensive coordinator Jim Cheney after another uneven performance. He bristled at insulting questions about consistency, saying, “I don’t know, did you watch the game? We had more yards than them. Unfortunately for Pruitt, the teams do not win matches in common yards.
Worse was his continued defense of Guarantano as Tennessee’s best shot to win. The only possible explanation is that Pruitt has Stockholm Syndrome if he still thinks Guarantano is the man after throwing a break in the end zone, which Smoke Monday returned for a 100-yard touchdown. It was the game right there and not close to the first time Guarantano made the decisive game for the wrong team. Decision-making in key situations has long been in question, and yet Tennessee coaches have failed to fix it. The fact that Pruitt does not feel comfortable turning to any of his backups in Year 3, given Guarantano’s struggle, is a major accusation.
Can Pruitt solve the problems in Tennessee? In the college football world, there is considerable doubt that he can. While Tennessee fans are ready to move on, it would still be a surprise to see Tennessee fire him at the end of this season. The main reasons why both are tied to AD Phil Fulmer.
Pruitt is not only Fulmer’s first tenancy in Tennessee, so it would hurt him to fire him after just three seasons, but Fulmer gave Pruitt an extension of his pre-season contract in the 2025 season. Fulmer will need big money and a big ego-hit to admit he made two mistakes with Pruitt. Never back down from external pressure, forcing the hand of AD – the loss to Vanderbilt this week can really increase the pressure – but there are many reasons to believe that Fulmer will give Pruitt another year to figure it out. If and when Fulmer eventually moves from Pruitt, industry sources believe Tennessee could be the landing site for former Miss Ole Hugh Freeze coach.
Pruitt will probably have to make an offensive change of coordinator – lucky to get a big OC name in these circumstances – and hopefully with a new OC and QB next season to improve.
But after another disappointing loss in a series of similar ones, there is no reason to believe that it will be with Pruitt.
CONNECTED: Can Hugh Freeze return to the SEC soon?
Give credit to teams with short hands
I expected Georgia to blow up the state of Mississippi.
I wasn’t even sure Arkansas would be able to play this weekend.
And although they both lose close matches, they deserve great credit for their lavish performances without key collaborators.
Mississippi State shouldn’t have played against Georgia if they didn’t want to. Bulldogs fell below the threshold of 53 fellows and easily managed to miss what seemed like a likely loss from an outburst against the top 15 team. Even some fans chose to postpone the game to prepare for next week’s Egg Bowl.
Instead, Mississippi played its best game of the season, giving Georgia everything it could handle in a narrow loss of 31-24. Reserve quarterback Will Rodgers played great, throwing for 336 yards and a touchdown. There were fears that the SEC’s defense understood Mike Leach’s air strike violation after it had indeed fought after that week-long offensive explosion against LSU. A Leach-led crime was never ruled out before it happened twice this season. Against one of the better defenses of the SEC, however, the state of Mississippi cleverly divided the secondary place of the Bulldog and took what the defense gave him. Somehow, the Mississippi state even ended up with faster yards than Georgia. There is no such thing as a moral victory in the SEC, but after everything Mississippi State has experienced in recent weeks, from bad losses to all transfers and rejections, this team deserves great credit for how it played on Saturday.
The same can be said for Arkansas, which has been severely limited on the defensive line against LSU. Arkansas barely exceeded the requirements for 53 players and had only two defensive crews with any attempt to play against the Tigers. And yet with everything going against him, Arkansas had to beat LSU.
The Razorbacks were again at the end of a few bad calls – the impossible recovery in the second quarter was unusual – and slowly ran out as LSU moved to the ground and pounds at the end of the game. I’ve written it before, but for everything he did to make Arkansas respected again, Sam Pittman is my choice of coach of the year at the SEC. Arkansas is one of the toughest outs in the SEC this season, always playing hard, even when it’s obvious that the opposing team has a significant talent advantage.
CONNECTED: Is Kentucky the most influential SEC school?
Most pumped up fan base: Northwest
Northwestern proved that this was the real deal after rejecting Wisconsin. The Northwest escaped well from the Fighting Rece Davises board, but the facts are that it is a very well-trained team that has the talent to cancel larger name programs. Northwestern will still be a big outsider against Ohio, but it’s the top 10 team right now and it’s a good bet to win its division.
The most panicky fan: Nebraska
Getting trolling from Illinois on Twitter may be a new minimum for Nebraska fans. The Cornhuskers love their football, but the team has not given them any reason for this season. After struggling so hard to play a 2020 season, Nebraska might wish he didn’t. Nebraska looked like a mess with a 41-23 loss to Illinois in another disappointing performance with Scott Frost. The man who had been drawn to resurrect a dormant previous power had slipped even further into irrelevance.
Mem of the week
I haven’t watched the latest season of Disney’s Mandalorian, but I still love this meme from my colleague Matt Scalichi.
Ranking of the weekly 10 SEC games:
1) Auburn in Alabama (2:30 p.m.) This is the Iron Cup. That’s all you need to know.
2) Mississippi State in Ole Miss (15:00) The tough moment is against the Iron Bowl, but the Egg Bowl is always delightfully strange. Can Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach go beyond the quirks of last year’s fake puppies?
3) LSU at Texas A&M (18:00) A fiercer rivalry than most admit. Texas A&M has long been cutting, but still has to separate the difficulties of LSU.
4) Arkansas, Missouri (11:00 a.m.) Two teams are playing better than last year under new coaches.
5) Kentucky, Florida (11:00 a.m.) Watch this game to see how many points Kyle Trask can score.
6) Tennessee in Vanderbilt (18:30) Two Tennessee teams desperate for victory. A loss to Vols here would increase the pressure on Jeremy Pruitt.
7) Georgia in South Carolina (18:30) Can JT Daniels string another big night?
John Talty is a sports editor and SEC Insider for Alabama Media Group. You can follow him on Twitter @JTalty.