As bad as it was at times for the Vols in their Thursday night opener against Appalachian State, it could have been a lot worse.
Tennessee flirted with what would’ve been a historic and potentially crushing upset over the course of three and a half hours on Thursday evening in Neyland Stadium. Appalachian State pushed the lead into the fourth quarter, and then the game into overtime.
A series of crazy events gave Tennessee a win, and a huge sigh of relief. But the Vols still leave with plenty of questions and concerns moving forward.
“On a night where anything and everything went wrong, we found a way to win,” Butch Jones said after the game, noting that he never apologizes for wins and also stopping to “educate” the media that he’s never had a frustrating win.
The events in the closing moments, however, were as unpredictable as the flow of the game itself.
The Mountaineers had their chances to end it in regulation. Running back Marcus Cox, who finished the game with 115 yards on 24 carries, advanced the ball all the way to the UT 33 in the closing minute. Chaos ensured.
Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb flipped a pass out to Cox, who took a loss on a big stop by Cam Sutton. The Mountaineers kept their one remaining timeout in their pocket, took another snap, and by the time Lamb scrambled around and lunged for the sideline, time expired, sending the game to the extra frame.
It got even crazier in overtime. Tennessee advanced to the 1-yard line on a run by Jalen Hurd, who finished with 110 yards on 28 carries and a score. But that touchdown came in the most unusual fashion.
After UT got knocked back to the 2-yard line, Joshua Dobbs took the ball around right end, reached out for the goal line and coughed the ball up into the end zone while taking a vicious shot to his ribs. It was there that Hurd scooped up the loose ball for the unlikely, but deciding, score.
Tennessee held on its defensive series in overtime – getting a batted pass from Micah Abernathy in the end zone to preserve the victory. That swat from Abernathy secured the win, but certainly didn’t erase a host of questions built up in UT fans’ minds throughout the evening.
“We made way too many mental errors,” Jones said. “We have to throw the ball away at the end of the first half and get three points. We did some thing that were very uncharacteristic…We have to get those things corrected.”
Jones referenced a sloppy pass from Dobbs, that was picked and took potential points off the board for UT. That was one of many mistakes that came from some of the most unlikely players. Dobbs made a handful of shaky decisions. The normally sure-handed Cam Sutton also muffed a punt in the first quarter that killed early momentum and set up Appalachian State for an early lead.
“Football is a game of momentum, and you’re responsible for what you create,” Jones added. “And for us, we have to embrace that sudden change and (try to give up just) three points. There’s a lot of teaching to be done off this video.”
Those teaching points will include tackling, pass protection and ball security, among others. But those lessons are easier to take while studying a win.
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 2, 2016