Thanks to Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd’s fumble recovery in the end zone during overtime, the Vols managed to slip past the pesky Appalachian State Mountaineers, 20-13, on Thursday evening.
Tennessee entered last night under tremendous pressure after a preseason full of hype. By all accounts, Thursday wasn’t the greatest of starts.
Cam Sutton muffed his first punt return of the game, which led to an Appalachian State touchdown on a Taylor Lamb quarterback keeper. Later in the opening frame, captain linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was ejected for targeting while covering a punt.
The Mountaineers’ Marcus Cox dominated the first half, rushing for 31 yards on his first three carries. Cox led Appalachian State in both receiving and rushing yards at halftime and also caught a touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, the Orange and White struggled mightily on the offensive side in the first half. The offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who also had a hand in Tennessee’s inability to move the ball. Last season, many criticized Dobbs for his inconsistency as a thrower. Thursday night was no different. Dobbs completed only 10-of-18 passes in the first half for a mere 75 yards, along with an ill-timed interception late in the first half that halted a Tennessee scoring opportunity, sending the Mountaineers into halftime with a stunning 13-3 lead. Hurd was the only bright spot for the Vols, rushing for 53 yards on 13 carries.
In the third quarter, Sutton redeemed his earlier mistake by intercepting Lamb. Tennessee’s offense found a spark of life, driving down the field before settling for a field goal that cut the lead to seven. The Vols tied the game at 13 in the fourth quarter after Dobbs connected with Josh Malone for a 67-yard bomb. Appalachian State had a chance to win the game in regulation, but a missed extra point from its second touchdown of the game and a late missed field goal sent the game into overtime.
Eventually, Tennessee found a way to close the deal in overtime, although it didn’t come without Rocky Top’s heart skipping a beat. Just four yards away from scoring, Dobbs scrambled to his right and dove for the end zone. Before crossing the plane, Mountaineer linebacker Kennan Gilchrist stopped Dobbs in midair and forced a fumble. Luckily for the Vols, Hurd pounced on the ball in the end zone. Bob Shoop’s defense made a stand and earned Tennessee a hard-fought victory after stopping Appalachian State on downs.
While the game was ugly, head coach Butch Jones is never frustrated with winning.
“A night where anything and everything went wrong, we found a way to win,” said Jones. “The formula for winning never changes, and I think we did a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of us.”
The Vols now turn their focus to Virginia Tech. They’ll play the Hokies next Saturday in the “Battle at Bristol”, which will feature the largest crowd in college football history.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Alison P. McNabb, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics