May 25, 2024

Biggest takeaways from Vols’ home-opening loss to Oklahoma

Saturday night the Oklahoma Sooners went into Neyland Stadium and led an improbable fourth quarter comeback to beat the Volunteers.

Saturday night the Oklahoma Sooners went into Neyland Stadium and led an improbable fourth quarter comeback to beat the Volunteers.

Tennessee was in control for a majority of the game, going into the fourth quarter with a 17-3 lead and possession of the ball after a second interception by sophomore Todd Kelly Jr. With the momentum they had built in the first half, Tennessee could not continue the offensive dominance it had shown early. The Vols were shut out in the entire second half and their only other touchdown on the night came from Jalen Hurd in the first overtime.

Here are some takeaways from Oklahoma’s comeback/Tennessee’s collapse:

Tennessee missed tackles and chances.

Tennessee had multiple opportunities to make this game a rout rather than a nail biter to the very last down. The offense came out the gate fast and furious with both the run game and pass game clicking on all cylinders. After their first possession resulted in a field goal, the Vols went on to score two more quick touchdowns to make their lead an impressive and almost game-deciding 17-0. Oklahoma hit a field goal before the half to make it 17-3 but the second half was a completely different story. The Vols’ offense was almost nonexistent. The offensive line began to crumble and Dobbs was left scrambling the pocket the entire second half with barely enough time to allow his receivers to finish their routes. This pressure led Tennessee to lean on the rushing game more but the result was the same. Neither line could develop a push against Oklahoma’s stout front seven. With the offense stalling, any points would be huge for Tennessee but a missed 48-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Aaron Medley eventually led to a momentum shift in Oklahoma’s favor. The missed field goal was the last time the Vols got remotely close to scoring.

Image by Frankie Leon. Courtesy of creativecommons.org.
Image by Frankie Leon. Courtesy of creativecommons.org.

The defense also missed many opportunities that could have easily turned the game around in their favor. Multiple times, Oklahoma’s quarterback Baker Mayfield was caught in the backfield by preseason All-American defensive end Derek Barnett and company, only to elude their tackles and convert first downs. On one such occasion, Mayfield broke four tackles enroute to a positive gain. Tennessee fans know all too well the woes of bad tackling and missed opportunities. The Vols must capitalize on opportunities if they are going to have any chance of beating the likes of Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard are a force to be reckoned with.

Going into the season, OU had no idea who would be their starting quarterback until a week before kickoff when head coach Bob Stoops announced it would be Mayfield. After a strong performance against Akron in week one and a comeback win against Tennessee on the road, it is pretty clear why Stoops chose Mayfield. Although he threw two interceptions, he stepped up when it mattered most and found receiver Sterling Shepard twice in the end zone. A quarterback with good receivers sometimes looks better than he actually is, but this time it is thanks to Mayfield that Shepard had any touchdowns at all. Chiefly, Mayfield’s ability to extend plays when it mattered and his trust in Shepard helped the two work well together. With Shepard’s incredible play to score in the second overtime, which turned out to be the game winning score, it was all but proven that this duo of quarterback and receiver is one that will be a nightmare for defenses this season, especially in the Big 12.

Dobbs has to be better.

At the end of the day, for the Volunteers, the defeat rests upon the shoulders of their quarterback and captain Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs, who has been mentioned as a Heisman dark horse, was anything but that last night. He completed only 13 of his 31 passes with an underwhelming 125 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Usually with Dobbs, these unattractive passing stats would be covered up with a strong performance on the ground by the speedy quarterback. However, Dobbs only had 12 yards on the ground against the Sooners. He took care of the ball for the most part until the last play of the game when he threw an out route pass intended for receiver Marquez North. The throw was read the entire way by Oklahoma cornerback Zach Sanchez, who intercepted the pass to end the game. Dobbs was ultimately a non-factor in this game and that will have to change for Tennessee to compete in the SEC East.

Final takeaway

In what was an electric atmosphere and shootout, the game really was a coin toss all the way down to the final play when the coin flipped in Oklahoma’s favor. The result from Saturday night is by no means a season-ender or season-maker, but it will impact the outlook and optimism for each fan base and coaching staff. The season is still young and there is a ton of football to be played. It will be interesting to see how both of these teams play in their respective conferences. This time, the Big 12 came out on top by the thinnest of margins.

Edited by Cody McClure

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