It was ugly. In fact, it was very, very ugly. But the Vols managed to survive a strong upset bid by Appalachian State, and they won 20-13 in overtime.
Everything was sloppy for the Vols, from the offense to the defense and even special teams. But Tennessee got bailed out by terrible clock management by Appalachian state in the end of the 4th quarter and a missed extra point earlier in the game, and the Vols were able to stand tall in overtime to escape.
Here are five observations from Tennessee’s 20-13 overtime victory over Appalachian State.
1. Sloppy Offense
The Vols may have hit a couple big plays, but for the most part Tennessee’s offense was sluggish, out of sync, and bogged down tonight against Appalachian State. Even with the extra period, the Vols mustered just 319 yards of offense and averaged just 4.4 yards a play.
Jalen Hurd managed to eclipse 100 yards on the night, but it took him 28 carries to get his 110 yards. And his lone touchdown came on a fumble recovery in the end zone in overtime. Kudos for showing great awareness, but he was stuffed at the goal line twice before that play.
Tennessee put out one of their most inefficient performances on offense we’ve seen under Butch Jones. And it came with a senior quarterback, two junior running backs, and a more experienced offensive line. It was overall just a terrible overall performance on offense.
2. Still Need More Kamara
Hurd was the workhorse in the run game, and Dobbs barely carried it. That must’ve meant Kamara at least got a fair share of run, right?
Not so fast.
Kamara finished the game with just nine total touches. He ran the ball six times for 21 yards and caught three passes for 20 yards. Overall, that’s a 4.6 yard per touch average, which is better than Hurd’s four yard per touch average factoring in his lone six-yard reception to his rushing totals.
One of the biggest issues with the offense last season was the underutilization of Kamara. And that happened again in the first game of 2016.
3. A Downfield Pass?
The Vols attempted a small handful of deeper passes, and they didn’t have much success. Not until Dobbs hit Malone in stride for a 67-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, however.
Josh Smith couldn’t pull in a deep pass down the middle from Dobbs earlier in the game because the pass was too low. Dobbs also attempted a pass to the end zone in the first quarter from an intermediate range out and it fell incomplete too.
Tennessee’s passing game has been the major topic of discussion all offseason. And the offense did little to quiet those concerns tonight.
4. Not the Defensive Debut You Wanted
Bob Shoop’s debut as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator didn’t go as planned. Yes, the Vols only allowed 13 points and forced a turnover, but they managed only six tackles for loss and didn’t get a sack all night.
Appalachian State only totaled 292 yards on offense and only converted three of their 13 third down attempts, but they ripped off plenty of big plays on first and second down to keep the lead for most of the game. If not for the blown time management to end the fourth, the defense’s multiple gaffes on that drive might’ve cost the Vols the game.
It wasn’t a disastrous debut, but it was far from what Vol fans envisioned to start the season.
5. Poor Decisions by the Captains
Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara, Cam Sutton, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are the permanent captains for the Vols this year. And at least three of them ended up making mistakes that almost cost Tennessee the game.
Dobbs made a terrible decision and threw the ball up in the air while running backwards that was picked off. He then gave great effort and dove for the end zone in overtime and fumbled the ball, but that may not have been an entirely necessary play. Luckily for Tennessee, Hurd was there to recover it.
Sutton muffed the first punt return of the game, and that led to Appalachian State’s first touchdown of the game and gave them an early 7-0 lead. He would make up for that with an interception later in the game, but that was a crucial mistake early. And Jalen Reeves-Maybin got ejected early in the first quarter after a controversial targeting call on a punt return.
All in all, it was a rough showing from Tennessee’s captains in the first game of the season. They’ll need to be much better for the Battle at Bristol.