Vols Escape Clutches of Defeat in Season Opener…Again

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    This time last year, the Vols barely escaped Neyland Stadium with an overtime victory over a determined and scrappy Appalachian State squad. This year, the Vols had to go to overtime again to find a way to start the season 1-0.

    Tennessee stopped Georgia Tech’s two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime to prevail 42-41 in their first game of the 2017 season. The Vols scored touchowns on both of their possessions in overtime, and Georgia Tech did as well.

    The difference? Tech elected to go for two on their second touchdown, and the Vols were able to stop them with a strong goal line stand.

    The Vols nearly couldn’t overcome a rough offensive start. Tennessee totaled just 94 yards and one touchdown in the first half, and junior quarterback Quinten Dormady was having a start to forget. Dormady’s first career start for the Vols wasn’t going smoothly at all as he started the game completing just four of his 11 passes for 18 yards. He would end the first half with just eight completions on 20 attempts for 52 yards.

    Not only that, but receiver Jauan Jennings, the Vols’ No. 1 target in the passing game, got hurt in the second quarter and would never return to the game.

    But the Vols had two players step up in his absence on offense. One was an expected play-maker, and the other was a player who made just one catch all of last season.

    John Kelly had the best game of his Tennessee career on Monday night. Kelly carried the ball 19 times for 128 yards and four touchdowns, two of which came in the two overtimes. Kelly’s hard running and gritty effort helped propel the Vols to a clutch offensive performance in the second half and overtime. Kelly also caught five passes for 35 yards.

    The other player who stepped up in Jennings’ absence was sophomore receiver Marquez Callaway. And he stepped up in a huge way.

    Callaway’s first two catches on the night went for scores. His first catch was a 10-yard score on a fade route into the end zone, and his second showed off his speed and athleticism as he broke a short gain into a 50-yard touchdown sprint. Callaway would finish the game with four catches for 115 yards and two scores.

    Tennessee’s defense was trampled over by Tech’s flexbone/option offense time and time again thanks to the Vols’ ineptitude on offense early in the game. The Yellow Jackets dominated the time of possession in the first half and the whole game. Tech held a 14-7 lead in the first half and had the ball for 21:17. Compare that to Tennessee’s 8:43 time of possession, and it’s easy to see why the Vols’ defense was gassed.

    Tech would end up holding the ball for 41:27 in regulation compared to the Vols’ time of possession of 18:33. Yet despite that excess of possession, the Vols were able to tie it up and go to overtime.

    But not before another bad kick would bail Tennessee out. Again.

    Last year, Appalachian State missed a short field goal at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime. This time, walk-on defensive lineman Paul Bain was Tennessee’s hero, blocking Tech’s kick and forcing the overtime.

    The two teams would exchange touchdowns in the first overtime, and Tennessee would grab their first lead of the game with their touchdown to start the second overtime. Then came the Yellow Jackets, and they responded with another touchdown of their own.

    But they would not emerge victorious, as the Vols finally got the stop they needed on defense and ended the game on Tech’s two-point conversion attempt.

    Georgia Tech totaled 655 yards of offense, and 535 of that came on the ground. Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall amassed 369 yards of offense and five touchdowns. But his efforts came up just short on the Yellow Jackets’ two-point attempt, and the Vols found a way to escape defeat again.

    Tennessee’s defense may have been gashed time and again, but the Vols had several defenders come up big. Sophomore Daniel Bituli had a breakout game, totaling a whopping 23 tackles on the night. Colton Jumper tacked on 18 of his own, and Darrell Taylor and Cortez McDowell added 13 each. Bituli and Rashaan Gaulden each forced fumbles, and both of those turnovers led to Tennessee touchdowns.

    The defense may have gotten smashed in the face several times, but they managed to make big plays when it mattered most.

    Oh, about Quinten Dormady’s first career start: After a beginning to forget, Dormady would finish the game with 221 passing yards and two touchdowns while completing 20 of his 37 passes. And he helped lead his team to a victory in his first career start.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.