Rapid Reaction: Tennessee falls to Oklahoma in 2OT
What it means: Despite a gut-wrenching 31-24 loss, Tennessee proved they can hang with the nation’s top teams. That said, there is plenty to be concerned about in Knoxville. Tennessee dominated their Week 2 matchup against Oklahoma for three quarters, but wilted down the stretch yielding the largest lead ever coughed up at Neyland Stadium.
What I liked: Suspended defensive backs coach Willie Martinez returned and so, too, did the Tennessee secondary. A week ago, the unit surrendered 433 yards against Bowling Green. In Week 2, the unit clamped down, holding prolific Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to 182 yards. When firing on all cylinders, the Tennessee defense looked dangerous. The unit, however, couldn’t maintain the intensity without their best player, however. Oklahoma finished the evening 7-of-17 on third downs and held the Sooners to 308 total yards — but failed to limit the damage when need be.
What I also liked: Noise. The Tennessee crowd needs to be commended for making Neyland Stadium ear-splitting loud. According to an ESPN sideline report, decibels in the stadium were topping out around 114, or roughly the equivalent of a rock concert or thunderclap (according to a Purdue University study).
What I didn’t like: Curt Maggitt riding an exercise bike during the second quarter. If this was the Tour de France, it’d be OK. But this is one of the Volunteers’ biggest games of the season and their best player out with a hip injury isn’t what Butch Jones wanted to see. Tennessee’s defense bent and eventually broke in the second half without Maggitt, surrendering the game-tying score with 40 second left to play. Todd Kelly had two interceptions and Derek Barnett added a sack, but the Volunteer defense failed to lock down the Oklahoma Sooners when it mattered most.
What I also didn’t like: Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley doesn’t exactly exude confidence. The sophomore was 1-of-2 on the evening connecting from 19 and missing from 48 yards. The sophomore is now 2-of-5 on the season.
Who’s the man: Tennessee had no answer for Sterling Shepard in the second half. The senior hauled in seven catches for 74 yards, but scored the game-tying and go-ahead touchdowns for the Sooners, who rallied late to stun Tennessee at home.
Key plays: Shepard’s game-winning score was obviously huge, but it was the senior’s sprawling catch in-bounds with 4:21 to play on third-and-4 to keep the Sooners alive. If Shepard fails to haul that in, the Volunteers win the game.
What’s next: The Volunteers play host to Western Carolina in Week 3. They’ll look to rebound after giving away a game they should have won against Oklahoma. They’ll need that win over Western Carolina, considering that the Volunteers have Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama loom on the horizon.