Tennessee has spent its football week sorting through the wreckage left by last Saturday’s loss at Georgia and patching up what it could before this Saturday’s game against Kentucky.
The Vols should consider themselves fortunate.
The exercise, no matter how grim in nature, has been better than no work at all or no game to anticipate.
All around them, the COVID-19 pandemic this week was casting a long shadow across the rest of the SEC.
Two games – LSU at Florida and Vanderbilt at Missouri – have been postponed because of issues related to the virus. The Gators had to pause activities on Tuesday after 19 positive tests and about a dozen more players quarantined by contact tracing. The Commodores, who played with only 56 scholarship players last Saturday against South Carolina, weren’t able to reach 53-player minimum this week.
The narrative escalated on Wednesday when Alabama coach Nick Saban tested positive and went home, leaving offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to oversee preparations on campus for Saturday’s showdown in Tuscaloosa, Ala., between the second-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia.
UT coach Jeremy Pruitt’s lone interruption was to consider the fallout Wednesday night during his final press briefing before Saturday’s game against Kentucky at Neyland Stadium (TV: SEC Network, noon).
“I don’t think there’s probably not any family across our country that has not been affected during the pandemic,” Pruitt said. “Whether it’s somebody losing a family member or somebody getting COVID and missing work and going through the anxiety and trying to get well. We see it every day with our players, with our staff. I send my kids to school. I send them to school because they need it, and I also know that there’s a risk with that, so I get it.
“I hate it for anybody that has suffered through this. It’s tough times. But one thing I will say, with the leadership of Greg Sankey and everybody at the SEC office, we’ve continued since March to find solutions, to find the answers to the problems.”
Regarding Tennessee’s on-the-field issues, Pruitt said: “I need to take about 15 of those players over there on Georgia’s defense and put them over here to work against our offense every day to try to fix some of those problems. We made some mistakes in the game, but I’ve talked about this before, they had a lot to do with that. We got whipped in the second half.”
The Bulldogs left them with plenty to do this week. And the pandemic hasn’t kept them from doing it. But it’s always lurking. The team faces its final round of weekly tests for the virus on Thursday.
“Until that third test comes back negative, these guys don’t know if they’re going to be able to play or not,” Pruitt said. “There’s just a lot of anxiety, not only through our program but every program. It’s something that we understand. I feel like our team has handled it in a very positive way and we’ve got to continue to do that.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.