Jimmy’s blog: Have the Vols really closed the gap on Alabama?

By Jimmy Hyams

After a 31-point loss, did Jeremy Pruitt really mean Tennessee had closed the gap against Alabama?

Was the gap as deep as the Grand Canyon? Or have the Vols indeed made up ground against the Crimson Tide?

The scoreboard is the ultimate indicator. And Alabama’s 48-17 win certainly doesn’t support Pruitt’s case. And Pruitt’s 0-8 record against the big three – Alabama, Florida, Georgia – with an average margin of defeat 28 points per game doesn’t suggest UT is closing the gap on any of its rivals.

Some have compared Pruitt’s comment to Butch Jones uttering “champions of life.’’

But you consider what Pruitt inherited and you give him the benefit of the doubt, you would point to the Vols being better at the line of scrimmage. And the Vols do have some young athletes that could eventually be drafted.

It’s hard to imagine that in a five-year stretch, Tennessee didn’t have a player taken in three drafts (2015, 2016, 2019).

Perhaps the culture is much better now than it was three years ago.

Perhaps UT looks more like an SEC team with more SEC athletes and more bulk.

But one thing is clear: If the Vols don’t get better play at the quarterback position, they will not contend for the East Division title or beat Alabama, Florida or Georgia.

Heck, they might not beat Arkansas.

LSU made the jump when it got Joe Burrow.

Florida made the jump when it got Dan Mullen, a great developer of quarterbacks.

Years ago, Auburn made the jump when it got Cam Newton.

A great quarterback can be a great equalizer.

Tennessee doesn’t have a great quarterback.

I’m not saying the Vols have to have another Peyton Manning.

But they at least need another Tee Martin, Casey Clausen or Erik Ainge.

* The last 10 quarters have not been kind to Tennessee. The Vols have been outscored 109-24 by Georgia (second half), Kentucky (which lost 20-10 to Missouri) and Alabama. What’s worse, opposing defenses have outscored UT 28-24. And if you consider turnovers in UT territory that led to field goals, then it’s 40-28.

* In 2017, Tennessee fans unceremoniously helped nix the hiring of Greg Schiano, who was unfairly linked to the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky pedophile case. UT ultimately hired Pruitt. In Schiano’s first game in his return to Rutgers as head coach, the Scarlet Knights beat Michigan State 38-27. Rutgers scored 51 total points in nine Big Ten games last year. It was shutout four times and scored 10 or fewer points eight times. That doesn’t mean Schiano would have been a better hire at UT than Pruitt. But it does suggest Schiano might be a pretty good coach, especially if he can recapture the success he had during his first tenure at Rutgers.

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