Bad Spot Downs Tennessee In Music City

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    There’s something about Tennessee and the Music City Bowl.

    The Vols’ 2010 overtime loss to North Carolina came with a barrage of trash on the field and the implementation of the 10-second run off after the Tar Heels snapped the ball with 15 players on the field and time expiring.

    As Thursday afternoon turned into night in the state capital it was an abysmal spot that caused controversy and all but killed the Vols in their 48-45 overtime loss to Purdue.

    In the first overtime, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel played with his foot on the gas. First, on fourth-and-two at the Purdue 17-yard line, Hendon Hooker escaped a sack and scrambled for three yards to move the sticks.

    Five plays later, Tennessee rolled the dice again, going for it on fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line. With starting running back Jabari Small sidelined as he “fought through things all night long” freshman speed back Jaylen Wright was behind Hooker.

    The Vols gave the ball to the freshman and Purdue got push up front. Wright fought for yards but appeared to come up short with the official marking him down at the half-yard line.

    Here’s the full play.

    Upon closer look it is clear that Wright fell on top of the Purdue defender and reached into the end zone. Tennessee should have had a six-point lead pending the PAT needing to stop Purdue to win the game.

    However, the officials ruled that Wright’s forward progress had stopped, meaning where the ball ended did not matter.

    “Yeah, they said the forward progress had been stopped,” Heupel said postgame. “Sounded like the whistle blew after.”

    Here’s a few still shots of the run.

    By the letter of the law, the call was correct once forward progress was ruled. The instant replay can’t overturn a forward progress whistle. The officials mistake was calling it forward progress at all.

    It’s a fourth down run with the game on the line and no more than two defenders were ever tackling Wright. There was no risk of injury for a quarterback or any player. At no point did a Purdue defender push Wright backwards.

    While he minced words, Heupel’s frustration was clear postgame.

    “There’s some things I probably don’t agree with,” Heupel said “Yeah, I think everyone knows that.”

    Tennessee had plenty of opportunities to win this game. The Vols were abysmal in the second quarter, had an unsuccessful one minute drill and Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell gashed them through the air. Heupel said that much postgame while keeping the emphasis on what his team could have done to win.

    “You sit back and you think about the things that you have a chance to control,” Heupel said. “At the end of the day when you’re in a competitive environment, you got to control your controllables. That’s it. There’s some things that we handled really well tonight. There’s some things that we didn’t. That’s myself, our coaching staff, that’s our players. It’s all of us getting better.

    “Yeah, you walk in the locker room, and you could see it when they walked off the field. It hurt, right? Shoot, if it ever doesn’t, then you got the wrong group of guys inside the building. They’re prideful. They care. I think that’s shown up in the way they competed tonight. But it’s shown in the growth over the last 11 months. Always come from a place of passion and love and be careful with the emotion of anything that’s going on.”

    However, the forward progress and subsequent spot in overtime was a very bad call, and it downed Tennessee’s chances to win and end Heupel’s inaugural season on a high.

    Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.