The Tennessee Volunteers kicked off their season with a double overtime victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 42 – 41.For Tennessee fans, Monday night’s game drained every emotion one can feel. After falling behind early while looking anemic on offense, a Tennessee win seemed like a longshot.
With five and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter Georgia Tech had a 93% win probability, according to ESPN.
Butch Jones started Quinten Dormady at quarterback after a battle for the lead man lasted throughout the spring and fall camps. Dormady struggled early in his debut – at halftime he was a meager 8-for-20 passing.
While the game looked bleak for the Vols, SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic noted Dormady’s disappointing start and how important he was to the Vols’ chances of winning.
This game was going to come down to Tennessee QB play.
8 of 20 isn’t going to get it done.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 5, 2017
As Dormady played poorly, Jones and new offensive coordinator Larry Scott didn’t utilize their premier playmakers enough.
The emergence of running back John Kelly and wide receiver Marquez Callaway resurrected Tennessee’s chance of winning in the end. Kelly was effective almost every time he touched the ball and Callaway caught two critical touchdown passes.
Although Callaway had success against Georgia Tech’s secondary he finished the game with only four catches. If Callaway was a bigger part of the Vols’ offensive scheme they may have found some rhythm earlier in the game, especially after Jauan Jennings was injured.
In that graphic on Marquez Calloway where it said Catches: 4; Yards: 114. Under Targets: it should’ve said Not Enough.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) September 5, 2017
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s defense was exposed as very susceptible against the run. Georgia Tech pounded their rushing attack down Tennessee’s defense all night long – the Yellow Jackets finished the game with over 500 rushing yards.
After being beat on the ground consistently it’s a testament to Tennessee’s resilience with how they fought after such a slow start. Going into halftime the Vols were down just 14-7.
Once halftime ended Tennessee still stumbled out of the gate. The Vols didn’t come alive until Rashaan Gaulden forced a fumble when the Jackets pushed the ball down field in the fourth quarter.
Gaulden’s forced fumble was the turning point for Tennessee. The Vols drove down the field to score the tying touchdown with a minute and a half left.
The Yellow Jackets had their chance to respond and win the game. Everything went according to plan for their offense, the triple option continued to run through Tennessee’s defense, as they racked up 535 rushing yards on the game.
Tech made their way into field goal territory then called their final timeout. With the game on the line the Vols blocked Georgia Tech’s low field goal attempt from 36 yards out.
In overtime both teams scored each time they touched the ball. It wasn’t until Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson elected to go for a two-point conversion that the Vols were able to seal their victory.
Tennessee’s defense stuffed Taquon Marshall at the line of scrimmage to cap off a wild night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Reactions from the media and fans alike were a mixed bag of opinions. Braden Gall from ESPN 102.5’s Braden and Fitz said, “you can look at the trash can as half full or half empty after this game”.
trash can wins pic.twitter.com/25vrOGJzpk
— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) September 5, 2017
You could look at this season opener from the positive side that the Vols fought through adversity and grinded out a win even though they weren’t very sharp early.
If you see the trash can as half empty then the Vols pulled out a lucky win because of two missed field goals in a game where they were out played for most of the game.
GoVols247 Senior Writer Wes Rucker joined ESPN 102.5 The Game’s Braden and Fitz to give his reaction to Tennessee’s performance.
“I thought they’d be an 8-4 team this season. The longer the game progressed I felt less [confident] about that, but I stuck by that prediction and I’ll stick by it now.”, said Rucker.
While the Vols struggled, this is the team many expected to see this season. This opener worries many fans over how competitive they can be in the SEC East this season.
Here is a recap of how national experts reacted to Tennessee’s performance.
What a win for @UTCoachJones and the Vols. D made big plays in crunch time. Forced Fumble in 4th and 2-point conversion stop. O will be good
— Greg McElroy (@GregMcElroy) September 5, 2017
The Vols have themselves two big-time playmakers w/ Marquez Calloway and John Kelly.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 5, 2017
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 5, 2017
Tenn RBs are dominant players
— Les Miles (@CoachLesMiles) September 5, 2017
Tennessee starts 2017 the way it started 2016: Finding a way to win a game despite all evidence that it shouldn’t have.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) September 5, 2017