Tennessee will say a win is a win, which is technically true. The SEC East favorites walked away from Week 1 with a 1-0 record, but the Vols were far from impressive at home in their 20-13 overtime win over Appalachian State on Thursday night.
Despite being a 21-point underdog at kickoff, Appalachian State probably won’t be looking at Thursday night as a moral victory after letting a win slip through their grasp by way of kicking miscues, clock management issues and some fumble luck going the way of the Vols.
Appalachian State’s misfortune started when the Mountaineers missed an extra point after taking a two-score lead on the Vols to start the second quarter.
As the kick faded wide right, there was a feeling that point would matter. We’ve seen too many times those when those little moments early in a game come back to haunt teams, and sure enough, that point was the difference between a win and the game going to overtime.
Appalachian State was up 13-0, and despite Tennessee’s lack of offensive execution, the Vols were able to climb back into the game with a long touchdown pass — a rare moment of explosiveness — and a field goal, rather than needing to press for a two-point conversion or another score at some point.
While Tennessee scrapped back into the game, the Mountaineers failed to capitalize on opportunities.
Four of Appalachian State’s five second half drives ended in Tennessee territory, but they failed to score any points. There’s certainly credit to be given to the Vols’ defense for its role in stopping the Mountaineers, especially Cameron Sutton’s phenomenal read that led to his interception on the first Appalachian State drive of the second half.
But the Mountaineers had drives that ended with a 42-yard missed field goal — which, once a freshman kicker has missed an extra point on the road, you can’t expect a ton from long range — and then the inexplicable clock management that saw the clock run out to end regulation with a timeout in hand on the Tennessee 30.
That final drive — which started on their own 20 rather than plus territory after a Jalen Hurd fumble somehow got pounced on by the lone Vol in an area surrounded by Mountaineers — was an exhibition of poor clock management. It was clear that, early on, Appalachian State was trying to balance running the clock down, while also moving the ball. The Mountaineers didn’t want to give the ball back to the Vols with time remaining for a game-winning field goal.
However, that clock strategy bit them once they crossed midfield. The Mountaineers were most successful running the ball, which makes it tough to move the ball quickly. It’s made more difficult when you burned a timeout before a field goal earlier in the half — essentially icing your own kicker — and when you fail to use the two timeouts remaining.
The Mountaineers watched as the final seconds ticked off the clock without even so much as a desperation heave to the end zone — instead watching their quarterback dart towards the sideline in a failed attempt to stop the clock.
Then came overtime, where the Vols marched the ball down to the 5 before Appalachian State’s defense stood up. On 3rd and goal from the 1, Josh Dobbs went airborne in an effort to reach across for the score. Instead, he was blasted by a defender, who put his helmet square into Dobbs ribs jarring the ball loose, but for the second time late in the game, a loose football eluded Mountaineers hands.
In their overtime turn, the Mountaineers failed to cross the Vols’ 20 as their upset bid fell short.
Thursday night in Neyland Stadium was one of those strange times when neither team felt particularly good leaving the field. The Mountaineers will spend the next week (or more) thinking about what could have been with a little better execution or if a couple hops went their way, but that’s football, where playing better than the opponent for most of the game can be rendered meaningless by poor execution late.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said after the game there was no such thing as a “frustrating win,” but how they played certainly wasn’t encouraging for the SEC East favorites.
That said, for once, it was the Volunteers that were the beneficiaries of fourth quarter bounces and someone else’s late game misfortune. There will be those to write off the Vols after that performance — and if they don’t improve those people will be correct to do so — but Tennessee has that first win under its belt and can try and point to this as the moment where their late-game karma turned.
Source: CBS Sports / Appalachian State fails to land knockout blow on Tennessee as miscues prevent win