KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ninth-ranked Tennessee avoided an upset late Thursday night that would have altered almost all of its lofty season hopes.
Butch Jones wasn’t about to apologize.
On a night Jones said that almost everything that could have gone wrong did, the Vols somehow managed to erase a 13-3 halftime deficit and rally for a 20-13 overtime win over giant-killer Appalachian State.
One thing went right: Jalen Hurd raced into a scrum and recovered Josh Dobbs’ fumble in the end zone for the winning points.
The game started with a three-and-out from the Volunteer defense, and everything looked well as planned.
But Cam Sutton fumbled the punt return, and the Mountaineers capitalized with a touchdown – and it was a different mindset after that.
“First of all, I’m really proud of our players,” Jones said following the game. “On a night where just about anything and everything went wrong, we found a way to win, got it to overtime and had a clutch play by Josh Malone. We did a good job on third-down defense, particularly in the fourth quarter and overtime.”
But the Vols struggled offensively before getting Malone involved. The offense was out of sync, the line was dominated, and costly penalties and turnovers turned Neyland Stadium into the world’s largest library for much of the night.
“For us, the formula for winning never changes, and I thought we did some things that were very uncharacteristic for us that we’re going to have to get corrected in a hurry,” Jones said. “In particular, taking care of the football. We have to take care of the football. On special teams, we have to do a much better job and also youngsters on that group. I think that they found out the speed of the game. It’s a little bit different. I thought our tackling was very poor, didn’t wrap up and run our feet, drive for five and (win) the line of scrimmage. But at the end of the day, we found a way to win the football game.
“We had some players step up and make some critical plays.”
Malone stepped up in a huge way after reeling in a 67-yard catch for a touchdown in the third quarter. He also realizes how important his play was in helping win the game.
“A win is a win,” said Malone, who had the Vols’ longest touchdown catch last year, a 75-yarder at Kentucky. “Winning is fragile, especially on this level. We’ll take it. There are still a lot of things we can improve on. We played a great team. We just want to take the win and improve from it.”
Josh Dobbs echoed the same sentiments. It wasn’t pretty, but the Vols are undefeated, and their preseason goals are intact.
“We can play better, personally, as an offense and as a team,” Dobbs said. “At the end of the day a win’s a win, and we’ll take it.
“Winning’s not easy no matter who you play in college football. We are thankful to have this win and thankful to have another opportunity to come out and play in Neyland Stadium, in front of our fans. We are ready to get ready for next week.”
Source: Saturday Down South