Rapid reaction: Tennessee avoids nightmare in Knoxville
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee avoided a nightmare in Knoxville. But it had to work overtime to do so.
The heavily favored and ninth-ranked Volunteers entered the season and tonight’s game as a team with high hopes.
It needed a mad scramble and a Jalen Hurd fumble recovery in the end zone to escape with a 20-13 victory over Appalachian State in overtime.
Butch Jones’ Volunteers were not expecting was a dog fight with Appalachian State. It was a fight from the beginning. Following a three-and-out from Appalachian State to open the game, Cam Sutton fumbled the punt return setting up the Mountaineers’ first touchdown. The game changed from there.
The Vols fell behind fast and found themselves down 13-3 going to halftime.
An early Dobbs fumble to start the second half was not ideal to come out the locker room, but the Vols overcame that blunder and several others. The good news is that the Tennessee defense was able to keep the Mountaineers off of the scoreboard in the third quarter.
What I liked
1. The Volunteers’ ability to provide pressure from their defensive line. The Vols were providing havoc in the Mountaineers’ backfield.
2. Evan Berry’s 41-yard kick return to start the second half provided a spark, even though the Volunteers couldn’t capitalize. That was an issue last year, too.
3. Sutton’s interception with 6:54 to go in the fourth quarter down 13-3 needing a stop with the Mountaineers driving to make it a three-possession game.
4. Aaron Medley came in and knocked down a 39-yard field goal in a big moment for the Vols in a must-need points situation. Medley then backed up his made field goal with a touch-back kickoff.
5. After going nowhere for most of the game, Dobbs finally connected on a deep ball, hitting Josh Malone for a 67-yard touchdown pass to tie the score. Malone had Tennessee’s longest TD catch last year too, a 75-yarder. The play came on 3rd-and-10 in the fourth quarter.
What needs to be worked on:
1. Chemistry within the offense. It started at the line of scrimmage. Appalachian State dominated the LOS most of the night. The Vols were not in sync all night. From penalties, to turnovers, to not making a play when need be at times. The Vols finally hit the long ball with Malone, and his touchdown catch provides optimism for more vertical plays this season.
2. Consistency in tackling in open space. It was an issue last year for the Vols, and it showed at times tonight against the Appalachian State offense. There were a lot of good times bob Shoop’s tackled well, but they did not tackle well for 60 minutes.
3. Third down stops in crucial situations hurt Tennessee’s chances to get back in the game quick. The Vols will need to address timely stops to have a complete defense prevail going forward.
4. Finding Alvin Kamara within the offense. He can run and he can catch, but where does the versatile talent fit within the offense?
Tennessee (1-0, 0-0) will head to Bristol to take on the Virginia Tech at the Bristol Motorsports Speedway. The game is expected to set the all-time attendance record for a college football game with capacity at 153,000. The game will be televised by ABC with an 8 p.m. ET kickoff.