Silver linings? It's not time for Vols to panic
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It wasn’t how Tennessee wanted to kick off its 2016 season.
Ranked as high as ninth, SEC East favorites and 20-point favorites against Appalachian State, a 20-13 overtime win wasn’t supposed to be the outcome for Team 120 to start the season.
But it was, and the Vols are fortunate to survive and advance – which is how college football works.
Senior defensive back Cam Sutton discussed adversity striking on opening night, and as a team, they were prepared for it to come at any point this season.
“We know how to overcome adversity,” he said. “Something that we talked about all off-season, in the lead up to this point, adversity is going to hit and strike at any moment.
“It just happened to be the first game, you know we had a lot of adversity throughout this game. Things that didn’t go our way, but still sticking together, still playing together, for each and every one of us.”
There were a lot of positives that Tennessee can take out of the victory, and some show improvement from last season. The mantra this season is to search for the 25 points that Tennessee could not find to win games late. The Vols’ last five losses have come by a combined 25 points.
Thursday, Tennessee scored 17 unanswered points, after trailing 13-3, and prevailed. The Vols found a way to win after facing adversity, and for a change, found themselves on the winning side instead of finding a way to lose a close game.
Bob Shoop’s defense did its part.
It wasn’t necessarily the Orange Swarm defense that has been talked about with such anticipation, but when Tennessee trailed 13-3 at halftime, the defense didn’t surrender any more points.
He had corners press Appalachian State’s wide receivers, and run-blitzing from the weak-side interrupted the Mountaineers’ misdirection plays. Those were just two examples of Shoop’s schematic advantage.
Appalachian State running back Marcus Cox talked about the tale of two halves.
“We came in wanting to run the ball and establish the run,” he said. “We wanted a physical game up front, and I feel like we did that.
“Towards the end of the game, we needed some big plays, and we just couldn’t find them when we needed them.”
The victory was ugly, but the Vols are 1-0 – something Mississippi State, LSU and Kentucky cannot say.