Entering the game ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff, Tennessee football fans had legitimate excitement about the possibility that they would beat the Georgia Bulldogs on the road. It didn’t happen.
The Vols fell to UGA 27-13 in a game that wasn’t even that close. That likely cost them any shot at winning the SEC Eastern division. However, the College Football Playoff is still in play, and tight end Jacob Warren noted they still have a lot to play for.
“The SEC championship was the goal from the beginning because, you win the games you need to win, you’re going to be in the College Football Playoff, and you’re going to be competing for the big championship,” he said. “So I think, at the end of the day that is, the the goal behind the goal, I guess, is to be considered in that conversation, and I think everybody kind of realized that that was a possibility, obviously, maybe not early in the season but once we kind of started getting rolling.”
If the Vols are going to win the East, they would need Georgia to lose to the Kentucky Wildcats and Mississippi State Bulldogs over the next two weeks. Although both are on the road, losing both is unlikely.
That doesn’t mean the Vols should give up on the season, though. After all, Georgia and the Alabama Crimson Tide have won national titles in the playoff era without winning their conference.
“We could still hope and have hope that they lose and we end up in the SEC championship, but at the same time, there’s also bigger and better things out there for us,” Warren said of Georgia’s lead in the division. “I think if we’re able to to finish off the season the right way and not let this one loss define us, and if we’re able to go out and do what we’re supposed to do the rest of the season, I think we’ll like where we end up, and we’ll still have an opportunity to go, kind of, make a name for ourselves this year and finish this off the right way.”
If they are going to make such a run, handling expectations will be a huge part of it. This was the first game the Vols played in which they were the hunters and not just the hunted.
Despite being No. 3 in the Coaches poll and tied for No. 2 in the AP Poll, when UGA was No. 1 in both, the Vols were No. 1 in the CFP while the Dawgs were No. 3. That gave Georgia a level of motivation that was a lot for the Vols to overcome.
“They were probably upset that they weren’t number one, and we were the guys that they wanted to beat, and the whole crowd was in on it,” Warren said. “That’s just something that we’re going to have to adjust to and just be get used to to being the guys that everybody wants to beat.”
In addition to deal with that target going forward, Warren said the Vols need to be able to understand the pain of losing. That was a common theme of the program for years until this season.
Things have obviously changed this year given the way Tennessee football has played. However, Warren said the feeling of this loss should help the Vols.
“I think you have to kind of sit in that hurt and let it hurt a little bit because if this game was easy, the wins wouldn’t be worth it,” he said. “Everybody would do it, and the wins wouldn’t mean as much, but you’ve got to let a loss sit there and sting a little bit, and, as we get into the next week of preparation, I think that will kind of come out.”
As far as disrespect, the Vols will have to fight that off as well. Their two quality wins are over the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers. LSU beat Alabama, but they did lose to the Florida State Seminoles.
Because of that, there have been conversations questioning the legitimacy of Tennessee football. Warren said skeptics should just watch the film.
“When we’re able to operate and we’re able to play the style of football that we play and we’re all working together, you can’t argue with the ranked wins,” he said. “You can’t argue with with the wins over good teams”
It is likely the Vols will get a few more chances to prove that. With the Clemson Tigers losing to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, their playoff path got a lot easier. As Warren noted, the season isn’t over yet.