Tennessee trailed by a touchdown and an extra point with just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Hendon Hooker threw a quick screen to Jimmy Calloway. Calloway— who took a Hooker screen 44 yards for a touchdown in the first half— made a defender miss and gained 16 yards before stepping out of bounds. A late hit on Brandon Hill would give Vols 12 more yards and a fresh pair of downs.
12 yards stood between Tennessee and the completion of a 14-point fourth quarter come back.
On first down, the Vols went back to the screen to Calloway but this time Pitt was all over it, tackling the sophomore for a loss of one.
Second down, Hooker ran seven yards to set up a pivotal third-and-four.
On third down, Hooker rolled out to his right looking to throw before tucking and running— seemingly picking up a first down at the two-yard line.
However, the spot left it up in the air and the chains showed Tennessee less than a yard short of the line to gain.
Here’s a still frame shot of Hooker lowering his shoulder and pushing for the first down.
How was this not a 1st down? pic.twitter.com/B0lWPlkD62
— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) September 11, 2021
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel had his coaches review left but with just one timeout, the Vols’ head man didn’t risk a challenge on the play.
On fourth down, Jaylen Wright was stonewalled in the backfield as the Vols turned it over on downs.
“I did feel like he got to the yard to gain on his run,” Heupel said. “I was in communication with the side judge just making sure they were reviewing the spot. Those are tough situations because you don’t want to burn a timeout. But you’re trying to make sure those are being reviewed.”
College football’s challenge rules are different from the NFL’s. While the booth reviews just scoring plays, turnovers and plays within two minutes of a half in the NFL, college officials can— and very often due— review plays without coach’s challenging a play.
Why the booth didn’t decide to review the play is unknown but bizarre in a play with such significance.
Tennessee’s defense would give the Vols another chance after forcing a Pitt three-and-out but Brandon Hill intercepted a Hendon Hooker post route and the Panthers’ ran out the clock to secure a 41-34 win.