Despite still being in the College Football Playoff race at No. 5 across the board, there’s no denying the beatdown the Georgia Bulldogs put on Tennessee football last week. It was a blowout way worse than the 27-13 score indicated.
As the Vols try to stay in the playoff hunt with three games left against unranked teams, they have to build their confidence back up. Center Cooper Mays rejected comments from the public that it may be shaken after the loss.
“Those people haven’t been in the locker room with us,” he said. “They haven’t seen us, how we prepare, how we work, so I think we’re all standing together, and I think we’re the same group of guys we were however many days ago it was that we didn’t play Georgia.”
Although they struggled all game, there were a few mistakes that made it worse. Pre-snap penalties, six sacks allowed and missed throws all kept it from being closer.
Mays said there wasn’t a particular moment he got over the Georgia loss. He said he just watched the film afterward and started focusing on the Missouri Tigers, who the Vols play Saturday.
“Once you’re done watching it, there’s not much to be said about it,” he said. “What’s done is done, and you can only really just sit on it and brew over it for however long you want to, but it’s not going to do you any good.”
Now at 8-1 and 4-1, it’s obvious Tennessee football is still in the CFP hunt. With two teams ahead of them, the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes, set to play each other, they may control their own destiny.
There are lots of factors going into that, though. Given their remaining schedule, the Vols have to hope the loser of that game falls below them. Either that, the TCU Horned Frogs losing or the No. 6 ranked Oregon Ducks losing seems necessary.
It’s possible two of those three things needs to happen, as there’s the chance the Pac-12 Champion leapfrogs the Vols. However, Mays said that can’t be the focus for Tennessee football right now.
“We’ve just got to control what we can control,” he said. “You’ve got to live where your feet are, so you can’t get bogged down with how things are going to project in a couple of weeks. We’ve just got to do our job and make sure that we handle what we can handle, and it’ll fall into place however it does. It’s out of our hands right now.”
Still, Mays acknowledged the season has been special, which no Vol fan can deny. They are No. 5 across the board and started off the year unranked.
Coming off the loss, he noted the team seems hungry to prove that it’s still elite. He also noted that they have to finish strong, or else everybody will forget the start.
Leadership probably helps with that. Mays touted Hendon Hooker’s leadership after the Georgia loss in terms of what helped them get over it.
“All the captains are going to step up for their offense and defense, but Hendon’s going to be at the forefront of it,” he said. “He’s the guy that brings a consistent energy about him everyday, and he’s not going to let us go off course.”
He added Hooker’s message after the game was to move forward with the same energy. Up front, though, Mays acknowledged he is the leader of the offensive line.
As the center who calls the plays, that might have been obvious, but it means he has his own job to get people ready to play. He mentioned an “aura” he brings in that everybody can feel.
“I’m not a big rah-rah guy,” he said. “I don’t like getting up and talking about stuff that’s cliche or corny or whatever, but when I say something I think people respect it for sure.”