COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Tennessee started the game Saturday against Texas A&M missing five starters, and by the end of the day, four more had been knocked out.
No wonder coach Butch Jones snapped at the media that he doesn’t want to discuss injuries anymore. No. 1-ranked Alabama is coming to Neyland Stadium next Saturday and the Vols are as banged up as any team in the nation.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs said Saturday his team’s attitude enabled it to overcome the injuries and rally from 28-7 down in the second half before losing to No. 8-ranked Texas A&M, 45-38, in two overtimes.
“We’re just a strong-minded team, and guys understand that with the ebb and flows of a football season, guys are going to have to step up and they are going to have to make plays, even if they aren’t expecting to get in the game,” Dobbs said. “So guys are always prepared and always ready for when their number is called to come in and execute.”
The No. 9-ranked Vols (5-1, 2-1 SEC) knew by the middle of last week that linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) and Darrin Kirkland Jr. (ankle), along with cornerback Cam Sutton (ankle), still would be out.
But then later in the week, a Vol Network report leaked word that bulldozing runner Jalen Hurd would not be making the trip, though Jones insisted it would be a game-time decision.
UT safety Micah Abernathy was a surprise scratch from the starting lineup on account of a lower-leg injury, but he ended up playing anyway because of the sheer volume of injuries.
The Aggies (6-0, 4-0) might not have been the better team, but they won the game, and they were certainly the more physical of the teams.
On nine occasions, the game stopped because a Tennessee player was laid out on the turf.
The five Vols starters who did not return to the game:
• DT Danny O’Brien, who flew back with the team after being taken to a hospital for observation with an apparent head injury.
• Center Dylan Wiesman was knocked out of the game with 8 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first quarter after a hit that knocked his helmet off.
• OG Jashon Robertson left with 6:04 left in the fourth quarter with an unspecified injury.
• LB Cortez McDowell was being evaluated in the shoulder/neck area with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
• DT Kendal Vickers suffered an undisclosed injury with 12:50 left.
At one point, five defensive backs had injuries. Sutton and Abernathy before the game, but then Malik Foreman, Emmanuel Moseley and Evan Berry all suffered in-game injuries but were able to return.