football Edit

Drew Richmond: Vols aren't quitters, offense seeking 'ultimate confidence'

Drew Richmond has met with reporters around 10 times during his tenure at Tennessee, and the veteran Memphis native usually talks in hushed tones full of coach-speak.

But Tuesday was much different.

The redshirt junior was animated throughout his media session, taking ownership for the offensive line’s mistakes this season and giving an impassioned closing remark about Tennessee’s desire to win.

"We're hungry," Richmond said, raising his voice after being asked about the team’s fight despite 11-straight SEC losses.

"We want to win. Bad. It's just crazy how much we go through, what we go through, what we do on a daily basis to seem like we're falling short.”

Tennessee’s last SEC win was against Missouri back in November of 2016. The Vols are 0-2 in conference play under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, losing to Florida and Georgia by 26 points a piece. Yet while the scoreboard remains a sore sight for Big Orange Nation, unlike a year ago, Tennessee isn’t laying down.

Slowly, the Vols are learning, painfully at times, how to “strain.”

“I guess that's the thing about life is your resiliency. How are you going to come back?,” Richmond said.

“I don't think we've got a team full of quitters. I just don't think that.”

Tennessee’s offense ranks 71st nationally, averaging just 5.68 yards per play. The Vols have flashed at times — they have more 50+ yard plays already this season compared to 2017 — but inconsistencies on every level of the offense has held the unit back.

“We haven’t played up to the standard,” Richmond said. “I feel like we’ve improved. We’ve been getting a lot better … but we just can’t have little busts at important times of the game.”

That refrain — also commonly stated as “a lack of execution” — has been Tennessee’s calling card all year. Against West Virginia, Richmond had two major mistakes that sunk drives. In the loss to Georgia, the Vols messed up a pair of 3rd-and-1s and the issues early in the Florida debacle need no recap.

Tennessee’s margin for error is already very small, so the self-inflicted errors become magnified, especially in painful self-reflection film reviews. While Richmond may have overstated the blame a bit, he did acknowledge, “That's one thing coach Pruitt always talks about that I genuinely understand is that Tennessee can't beat Tennessee. He always asks us, 'Did we do something? Or was it the other team?' Every time we reflect it’s us. It’s us.”

One thing holding Tennessee’s offense back is a lack of “ultimate confidence,” per Richmond.

What does that mean exactly?

“That’s the hardest part,” he said trying to explain it.

“Things just kind of being new, we don't have the ultimate confidence. That's what we're working towards."

It won’t come easy Saturday.

Although No. 21 Auburn is reeling a bit, the Tigers still tout one of the most disruptive defensive lines in the country. They have multiple NFL prospects up front and Tennessee’s bye week didn’t come with a couple of free agent additions.

Still, the Vols haven't lost their spirit and despite being more than two touchdown underdogs, they'll head to The Plains with the expectation they can eliminate their errors and take the fight to the Tigers.

“Every weekend is an opportunity for us to show, I feel like, how good we really are,” Richmond said.