Tennessee defense bends, breaks against Oklahoma
Tennessee fans are criticizing Butch Jones after the Vols coughed up a 17-point lead in Week 2 to No. 19 Oklahoma.
The Sooners, who were ineffective on offense nearly all game, rallied late to stun No. 23 Tennessee 31-24 in double overtime. The Volunteers built a 17-0 lead thanks in part to an effective rushing game and a swarming, shut-down defense. Fortunes turned in the fourth quarter as Baker Mayfield led the Sooners to the come-from-behind victory.
Here’s a breakdown of the Sooners’ thrilling win, which drops Tennessee to 1-1 on the year:
Takeaway 1: Tennessee has the talent to hang with anyone in the country … when they’re firing on all cylinders. The Vols looked like world-beaters through the game’s first 45 minutes. But their defense broke when it bent, revealing a Tennessee team that’s not quite ready to compete for an SEC East title. Vols head coach Butch Jones implored his players after the contest to remember the feeling of losing this game and to channel it into bettering themselves. Luckily, Jones’ roster is a young one; but it’s clearly not ready for the big time.
Takeaway 2: The Tennessee defense was in control of this game for the better part of the first three quarters. The Vols were applying pressure from the outside, they were shutting down the Oklahoma rushing game in the middle and making plays in the secondary, such as Todd Kelly Jr.’s two interceptions. Then linebacker Curt Maggitt (3.0 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss) left the game with a hip injury. Tennessee was never the same after that. Oklahoma converted 2-of-12 on third downs through the third quarter and 6-of-6 in the fourth.
Takeaway 3: Jalen Hurd posted more big numbers on the ground for the Volunteers with a game-high 106 yards and an eight-yard rushing score in overtime. Despite the effort, Tennessee struggled to get the offense moving in Week 2, including Alvin Kamara (4 yards) and Joshua Dobbs (12 yards). Last week, Kamara rushed for 144 yards to Dobbs’ 89. Tennessee proved they need all three contributing for the Volunteers to compete.
Takeaway 4: This will be a game that Volunteers fans will try to forget, but it won’t be easy. The 17-point deficit that Oklahoma erased in Neyland Stadium was the biggest by a road opponent in Tennessee history. The loss also makes the Vols 1-28 in their last 29 games against ranked opponents.
Takeaway 5: Bob Stoops entered Week 2 with 169 career wins as Oklahoma’s head coach, dating back to 1999. It was win No. 170, however, that made perhaps the most lasting impression. Said Stoops to the media after the game: “Of all our wins, this may have been my favorite.”
Offense: C – The Vols’ 254 yards of offense was a far cry from the team that pasted Bowling Green with 604 total yards in Week 1. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs struggled in the air, passing for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Defense: C – — This unit gets an A if we grade the first three quarters. It got ugly in the fourth as Oklahoma woke up and finished the game with 348 yards of total offense.
Special Teams: D – Lost in the mix of Tennessee’s roller coaster offense and at times dynamic defense is the Volunteers kicker Aaron Medley who is a bit of an adventure on kicks. Medley hit from 19 (just about the closest you can connect from in football) and missed from 48 yards.
Coaching: C- — Butch Jones’ team had the Sooners right where they wanted them, but failed to put Oklahoma away.
Overall: C — This loss will stick with them for a long time. Tennessee plays host to Western Carolina next week in a game they need to not just win, but win handily to get back on track.
Butch Jones likely will hear about his play-calling for at least the rest of the year, if not longer. Tennessee drove to the Oklahoma 1-yard line before their opening drive stalled. Facing a fourth-and-1, rather than attempt to punch in the score with his two dynamic running backs, Jones opted for the 19-yard field goal. After the game, the coach stood by his decision.
“We’re looking for points,” Jones said via Tennessee’s sport department. “We knew it was going to be this type of game. Football’s a game of momentum and you create your own momentum. You don’t want all-or-nothing plays at the beginning of the game. We just felt we needed to get on the board, get some confidence, and get some points.”
WR Sterling Shepard: Sterling Shepard scored the game-tying and winning touchdowns en route to a four-catch, 40-yard performance. His diving catch on third-and-4 with 4:21 to play extended the Sooners’ late rally, which Shephard personally capped off with a 5-yard touchdown grab.
QB Baker Mayfield: Tennessee turned Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield from a talented, eccentric kid into the future of the program. Mayfield finished with only 187 yards, and most of them came late, but the yardage and his three touchdown passes came when the Sooners needed them the most with the game on the line.
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin: Lost in the dust caused by Tennessee’s defensive implosion was the play of linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The junior tallied 20 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, forced fumble and a pass break-up in the loss.
- LB/DE Curt Maggitt left the game in the second quarter with what is being called a hip injury. He did not return and there is no word on his status for next week yet.
- You hate to see a player hauled off on a cart. Today it was Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson. The freshman running back exited the game via a cart late in the second quarter with an ankle injury.