Rapid reaction: Tennessee falls behind early, but races to checkered flag at Bristol
In front of nearly 157,000 at the Bristol Motor Speedway, Tennessee was slow off the starting line, but grabbed momentum at the game’s first turn, and cruised in to the checkered flag over Virginia Tech 45-24.
As in the first week, Tennessee began the game in thoroughly uninspired fashion, but turned it on quickly, to grab a lead that it would never relinquish.
The Vols are 2-0 heading into a final tune-up against Ohio University next week before the Florida Gators come to town Sept. 24.
What it means: While it was underwhelming at times, after the first quarter, Tennessee seemed to finally find the mojo that had deserted Butch Jones’ bunch throughout the first five quarters of the season. The offense whirred and hummed, the defense, while still making some mistakes, buckled down and denied the Hokies in big-play situations, and Tennessee looked like the best team in the SEC East.
What I liked: The big story coming out of this game is probably the re-emergence of the Tennessee offense. Aside from one big busted coverage by Appalachian State, it had been a terribly pedestrian first five quarters for UT.
Suddenly, the offense came alive, and the triple threat of Josh Dobbs hitting big play passes, Dobbs running, and Jalen Hurd running left Va. Tech looking befuddled throughout the final three quarters Saturday. The total yardage stats won’t dazzle onlookers, but the Vols cashed in on opportune moments, and generally looked like they were who we thought they were.
What I didn’t like: Falling behind 14-0 on the strength of a confused defense and an offense that put up two three-and-outs was certainly not a highlight. The problem with being a team that periodically dials in big efforts is that sometimes, particularly in conference, the Vols may fall too far down to dig themselves back out.
Jones’ focus for Ohio next week should probably be getting UT to do something positive in the game’s opening quarter, lest a trend become a habit.
Who’s the man: Vols QB Josh Dobbs has been something of a lightning rod for criticism. Historically, Dobbs has torn up bad teams, but fallen short against top competition.
With UT down 14-0, after a turnover, Dobbs answered the bell, and kept answering it for the rest of the night, occasional mistakes aside. His three passing scores were impressive, but on a night when he became the Vols’ leading QB rusher all-time, it was his skill in the ground game (team-high 106 yards and 2 TDs) that was the difference in the game.
Key plays: With Va. Tech holding a 14-0 lead and the ball, on the first play of the second quarter, Va. Tech QB Jerod Evans fumbled the ball on a botched exchange. UT’s Micah Abernathy recovered the fumble, and on the next play, Dobbs hit Jauan Jennings on a fade pattern in the end-zone for a game-shifting score. The play covered just five yards, but showed the confidence which had been missing from the UT signal caller. UT never looked back from there.
What’s next: Ohio University comes to Neyland Stadium next week, and UT (2-0) will be a heavy favorite. The Bobcats are 1-1 after a win at Kansas this week, 37-21. For the Vols, the game represents one more chance to hone their skills before Florida comes to town in the game which could well decide the SEC East.