KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On a steamy September night, Tennessee’s offense was spinning its wheels.
The No. 9 Volunteers were getting whipped at the line of scrimmage by the undersized, plucky Appalachian State Mountaineers. Quarterback Josh Dobbs looked flustered. Tennessee’s offensive line appeared gassed.
“We just weren’t executing,” junior receiver Josh Malone said.
“I knew eventually the time would come where we would just make plays and take the game to another level and put us in position to win. The whole time we were just waiting for that one play that would spark that whole entire team.”
It finally happened.
Down 13-6 early in the fourth quarter, Tennessee executed back-to-back plays on offense, and lo and behold, they scored a touchdown that ultimately spearheaded their great escape Thursday night.
Dobbs, who delivered a shaky senior season debut, hit junior Malone on a crossing pattern for 14 yards to convert a pivotal 3rd-down.
It was UT’s second-longest play of the game at that point. Then, Tennessee actually (amazingly?) called a 1st-down pass, and Dobbs hooked up with Malone for a 67-yard touchdown-strike. The ball under-thrown, but Malone made a fantastic adjustment in the air and snatched the catch away from the smaller App State corner.
“We’ve been working on that play all week,” said Malone, who was glad to finally get a chance against single coverage.
“That’s all we keep asking for. Just give us a chance. We’re all hungry to make plays.”
Although Tennessee’s offense struggled mightily Thursday night, Malone said the unit never panicked. During the evening’s difficulties, he harked back to two previous comebacks in his career, citing the South Carolina win in 2014 and the Georgia game last season.
“I’ve been in this situation before. You can’t show the younger guys you’re flustered,” he said.
“We know we’ve still got a lot to improve on. Again, we made a lot of mistakes early on and just overcame and just pulled out a close game.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com