BRISTOL, Tenn. – The Battle at Bristol started with a sputter for the Vols. But then Virginia Tech fumbled to start the second quarter, and Tennessee recovered on the Hokies’ 5-yard line. Then the Vols scored on the very next play of the game.
And that was enough to wake up the Vols.
Tennessee trailed 14-0 after the first quarter, but the Vols picked themselves up and capitalized on several Virginia Tech mistakes to run away with a 45-24 victory in the highest-attended football game in history.
Here are five observations from the Vols’ second victory of the season.
Another Slow Start
Tennessee, much like they did against Appalachian State in the season-opener, started out with a whimper. Virginia Tech dominated the Vols in the first quarter, out-scoring them 14-0 and out-gaining them on offense 204 to 26. The Vols couldn’t get anything going on offense and looked predictable on play-calling, and Virginia Tech was able to bust open some big plays, including a 69-yard touchdown run by Travon McMillian.
At one point, the Vols had just six yards on six offensive plays in the first quarter. Tennessee looked unprepared and out-coached to start the game.
Luckily for Tennessee, a game isn’t one quarter.
Vols Answer with a Vengeance
After a disastrous start, the Vols poured on the points and didn’t let up in the fourth quarter. Tennessee scored 31 unanswered points after the end of the first quarter and tacked on two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter to put it away.
The scoring started after Virginia Tech fumbled it to start the second quarter, and Tennessee recovered it at the Hokies’ 5-yard line. The very first play after that was a touchdown throw from Josh Dobbs to Jauan Jennings, and the Vols dumped it on from there.
Josh Dobbs was undoubtedly the MVP of the night for Tennessee on offense. He racked up 106 yards on the ground to go with 91 passing yards, totaling five touchdowns on the night. He also broke Tennessee’s all-time rushing record for a quarterback during the game.
The start may not have been what the Vols wanted. But the finish sure was.
DeBord Opens Up Offense…Sort Of
The Vols still didn’t completely open up their offense and had some frustrating conservative play calls to start and in the second half. But the offense looked much more explosive overall than it did at any point against Appalachian State.
Dobbs hit a deep touchdown pass to Josh Malone yet again, this one going for 38-yards. He also hit Alvin Kamara on a screen play that Kamara turned into a 23-yard touchdown after weaving his way through the defense. Dobbs also ripped off several big runs of his own, including a 40-yard highlight-reel run in the second quarter.
Tennessee’s offense still didn’t look as potent as it could have, but it looked much better than it did against Appalachian State.
Magic Show Shows Up Late
Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said earlier in the week that his “magic show” had yet to be revealed on defense. It took a little for it to show up against Virginia Tech, but when it did, the Hokies weren’t prepared.
The Vols allowed just 196 yards of offense after the first quarter to Virginia Tech, and a late touchdown in garbage time was the only touchdown the Hokies scored after the first quarter. Most importantly, the Vols forced some turnovers as well.
Virginia Tech fumbled the ball five times on the night, and at least two of those were caused by strips by a Tennessee defender.
Tennessee’s defense still has room to improve, but they looked drastically better as the game went on after a brutal start.
The Luck Goes Tennessee’s Way Again
Josh Dobbs threw an interception, but aside from that miscue, the Vols had nearly all the breaks go their way once again just like in Week 1.
Virginia Tech had five fumbles on the night. Two were caused by Vol defenders, but the other three were Virginia Techs’ own fault. One fumble was on a botched running play, another on a fumbled punt, and the fifth and final fumble came on a snap that flew over quarterback Jerod Evans’ head.
Butch Jones likes to say “you create your own luck” during a game. The Vols certainly benefited from that at the Battle at Bristol in a winning effort.