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Vols Start Slow, Take Checkered Flag at Bristol

It took one quarter, but the Vols found their bearings and rolled in the largest college football game ever, aided by VT’s generosity

NCAA Football: Battle at Bristol-Tennessee vs Virginia Tech
Rocket Dobbs cleared for takeoff
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

For 15 minutes, it seemed as though absolutely nothing could go right for the Vols. All it took was one play to turn the game, and possibly the season, around.

Tennessee utilized a 45-3 run to overcome an early 14-0 deficit on their way to a 45-24 win over Virginia Tech in front of 156,000+ fans at the Battle at Bristol.

The Vols won the toss, and then lost everything else in the first quarter. After pinning the Hokies deep on the opening kick, misdirection and missed tackles let VT get into field goal range. They missed, but the ensuing UT possession was waylaid by the same offensive line struggles we saw last week.

After a mediocre punt, Tech immediately got back in scoring position with a 30-yard pass from Jerod Evans to Sam Rogers. Two third down conversions later, Evans found Rogers in the flat for a touchdown.

Time for the Vols to respond, right? Nooooope. Another 3 and out gave the Hokies the ball right back, and they maintained their momentum with a 69-yard touchdown run from Travon McMillian. The Vols finally got a first down on their next possession, but they could not keep it going and had to punt again.

The first quarter ended after another Hokie first down. The Vols had been absolutely dominated, and things looked grim. What could be done to turn things around?

Whether it was Sheriron Jones’ sideline rant, Volundore’s switch from beer to stiffer libations, or Tech fumbling deep in their territory after a personal foul backed them up, the Vols finally got the break they needed to come alive. Dobbs immediately cashed in on the turnover with a fade to Jennings, and the Vols were on the board.

Shoop’s crew couldn’t immediately get off the field on Tech’s next possession, but did get a stop and force a punt. Pinned at their own 10, the Vols opted for some explosiveness. Dobbs hurdled his way down the sideline for 40 yards to get out of the hole, and then finally got a pocket and threw another bomb to Malone. Just like that, the game was tied at 14.

After a defensive stop and a super shanky punt, the Vols were back in business, but could only manage 3. Another defensive stop and nice Sutton punt return gave the Vols another shot before halftime, and they took advantage. Kamara. Dobbs. Hurd. Hurd. Kamara. Dobbs. It finally looked like the 2nd half of 2015’s offense as another touchdown extended the Vols’ lead to 24-14 at the half.

UT got the ball to start the second half, but couldn’t keep the momentum going. After VT fumbled on the first play of their next drive, UT couldn’t pay it off as Medley missed a long FG attempt. After a fierce defensive possession featuring two sacks, a long Dobbs run put the Vols back in scoring territory. On 3rd and 14, Dobbs spun out of a sack and found Kamara on the sideline who scooted into the checkerboards for a 31-14 advantage.

The Hokies wouldn’t go away, taking advantage of a few Vols’ mistakes on their next drive to pull within 14 and forcing a punt on UT’s next drive to keep their hopes alive. The D got a stop, but an ill-advised Dobbs’ throw late over the middle resulted in a pick giving Virginia Tech another shot.

They had a promising drive going, but they put the ball on the ground. After forcing a 3 and out...the Hokies put the ball on the turf again on the punt, the Vols recovered, and cashed in on a long Dobbs run. VT’s next snap? A fumble(!), which the Vols jumped on and brought to the end zone on the first offensive play to wrap up their scoring.

So a 45-24 win fixes all the ails us, right?! Not quite. The final offensive stats are not overly impressive as UT was out-gained (400-330) and out-possessed (32 minutes to 28 minutes). Dobbs finished 10/19 for 91 yards with 3 TDs and a pick, good for a robust 4.8 YPA (<3 YPA outside of the bomb to Malone), though he did have 106 yards on the ground. Hurd ended up just short of triple digits with 22 carries for 99 yards.

The defense created more havoc tonight with 5 turnovers and 3 sacks, but they were gashed early before adjusting.

Like last week, it’s a net positive: the Vols won. But there is still plenty for the coaching staff to harp on in preparation for not only Ohio, but the season-defining stretch to follow.