Tennessee, full of fight once again, runs out of miracles at Texas A&M
Eventually, after almost five hours of insane college football at Kyle Field, Tennessee flew too close to the sun.
The Volunteers, who have been involved in a decade’s worth of whackiness in six short weeks, fell to Texas A&M in double overtime 45-38. It’s a miracle UT even made a game of it with the way this one transpired.
The Volunteers turned it over seven times — two interceptions, five fumbles. A handful of their best players, from running back Jalen Hurd to linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin to cornerback Cameron Sutton, were injured and couldn’t play. Several more exited with various ailments in what was a war of attrition in College Station.
But in the end, quarterback Joshua Dobbs airmailed a throw over the middle that was picked off by Aggies safety Armani Watts.
The Vols fell from the ranks of the unbeaten to 5-1, although they still control their own destiny in the East. While A&M remains undefeated at 6-0, it’s tough to classify the Aggies as genuine contenders out West.
Texas A&M simply couldn’t put Tennessee away, even with home-field advantage, seven takeaways and 353 yards rushing. The Volunteers kept coming back for more like Jason Voorhees — refusing to die despite their collective heads being cut off time after time. Even in defeat, it’s foolish not to respect this UT squad.
Once again, the Vols dug themselves a gigantic hole. The Aggies were ahead comfortably 28-7 midway through the third quarter.
But tailback Alvin Kamara, the primary option with Hurd unavailable, ran for 127 yards and caught 8 passes for 161 more. He scored three touchdowns, including one that tied it 35-35 and forced OT with 35 seconds left in regulation.
Tennessee racked up a ridiculous 684 yards of total offense, picked up 29 first downs and possessed the ball for 32:23 to A&M’s 27:37. Although Dobbs made some mistakes that cost him in the end, he threw for 398 yards, ran for 57 and even caught a 4-yard TD pass — the second of his career — on some trickeration.
And it wasn’t just the offense. “Bombed out and depleted,” to quote Dave Chappelle, the Volunteers D did the incredible, too.
Defensive end Derek Barnett in particular played like a man possessed at times, making a case that he’s the best pass rusher in the SEC, not Myles Garrett of the Aggies. Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight was intercepted twice, too.
But one of the plays of the year was authored by UT cornerback Malik Foreman — the same guy roasted by Georgia seven days prior. Aggies running back Trayveon Williams, a step away from a game-clinching touchdown run in the closing moments, had the ball punched out from behind at the 1 by Foreman, who refused to quit on the play.
It was symbolic of the Vols’ entire season to date. It’s impossible to measure the fight this program has shown in crunch time.
However, there were too many injuries. There were too many giveaways. There were too many mistakes. Nothing was left in the tank after those miraculous comebacks earlier this year over Virginia Tech, Florida and Georgia.
That being said, the campaign is far from over for Tennessee. With wins already over the Gators and Bulldogs, they’re still atop the division. If they can run the table, they’ll go to the conference championship game. More than likely — it’s the SEC, after all — the winner will be invited to the College Football Playoff.
What complicates matters, of course, is that the Volunteers have to pick up the pieces and go back home to face No. 1 Alabama.
With the Crimson Tide rolling like few times before and comfortably ahead of Arkansas as of this writing, coach Nick and Saban and Co. will visit Knoxville in Week 7 with an opportunity to effectively end UT’s aspirations for Atlanta.
A second conference loss for the Vols conceivably puts Florida in the driver’s seat for the division crown. With the Gators’ game Saturday against LSU postponed due to Hurricane Matthew — and no make-up date determined yet — Tennessee has a lot less margin for error now after this defeat to Texas A&M.
If the Volunteers think they can storm back from another double-digit deficit against ‘Bama, they haven’t paid attention lately.
As for the Aggies, even with a zero in the loss column through six games, they now look more like a fraud than a legitimate threat. The No. 8 team in America shouldn’t need double OT to prevail at home after getting seven takeaways.
Knight, who has provided the leadership coach Kevin Sumlin needed so desperately at the game’s most important position, was quite shaky throwing the football. His running was again an equalizer, as he had 110 yards and three TDs — including the game-winner — on the ground, but his 17-of-34 passing effort was far from impressive.
We’re at the halfway point of the regular season, and an argument can be made that UT has played maybe four good halves.
When the Vols are bad, they’re really bad. Dobbs is inaccurate and ineffective as a passer. Their running game doesn’t play up to its ability. Receivers drop passes left and right. There are holes all over the secondary.
Nevertheless, when they’re good, they’re scary good. Dobbs turns into an unstoppable dual-threat killer. His targets in the passing game cover themselves in fly paper and snatch every ball in sight. Barnett refuses to be blocked and camps out in the enemy backfield. Kicker Aaron Medley makes the crucial kicks, too.
But just like Icarus, Tennessee’s wings proved to be made of feathers and wax. They finally melted on a hot night in the Lone Star State.