KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – To the victors go the altered perception.
On Friday, the Tennessee Volunteers were a hot mess. They held leads the way reality show housewives hold onto money. Their coach, Butch Jones, was suspected of being the second coming of Bobby Knight, only without all the winning. They dismissed a receiver with the most unfortunate nickname, Pig Howard.
On Saturday, they were the second coming of the Walton Family. Closer knit than the best cable knit sweater.
The difference, of course, was defined by the 38-31 victory over Georgia. Tennessee has three times this season gagged up large leads, now it was the Volunteers’ turn to make someone else feel that particularly searing pain. Falling behind the Bulldogs 24-3, the Vols spent the last 31 minutes of the game out-scoring Georgia 35-7.
Never a doubt, they said with great conviction afterward.
“This football team was not going to be denied, they were going to find a way to win this football game,” the embattled Jones said. “I’m just happy for them because they deserve to have this feeling.”
We on the outside saw a team with every reason to unravel. On the inside – at least after a victory – linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin could say he saw he was just the opposite.
“The group of guys we have in our locker room is like no other. How tight we are, how willing we are to fight for one another – it’s hard to describe. It’s such a close team. When we hear about all the outside distractions we nip them in the bud right now. We stayed focused on Georgia,” he said.
Look out Alabama, the Vols next foe following a bye week. Well, maybe not.
Given that the troubles facing the Vols have “galvanized us” (Jones’ words), maybe they’ll want to invent a few more between now and that game in Tuscaloosa, just to get a little stronger.