KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee was on the verge of crashing Thursday night at Neyland Stadium before a fourth quarter correction led to the overtime victory.
The No. 9-ranked Vols (1-0) came from 13-6 down in the final stanza to score the 20-13 overtime win over Appalachian State.
While it was a victory, it’s safe to assume Tennessee’s stock with the Top 25 voters dropped collectively, and a spot in the top 10 of the polls is unlikely next week.
• Kicker Aaron Medley had a pressure-packed 39-yard field goal with three minutes left in the third quarter. The Vols were desperate for points at the time, and fans were on the edge of their seats. The field goal attempt was from the left hash, which can be a tricky angle for a right-footed kicker.
• Punter Trevor Daniel averaged 50 yards on five punts, placed two inside the Appalachian State 20-yard line and made a touchdown-saving tackle on Jaquil Capel in the fourth quarter.
• Josh Dobbs is off to a rough start, looking out of sync with receivers not named Preston Williams, and failing to make plays at key junctures. UT needed Dobbs to come through at the end of the first half, but his pass to Josh Smith was thrown short, and then he threw an interception on third down to stall the drive.
In the third quarter, Dobbs fumbled a high shotgun snap on a third-and-3 and later made a bad read on a doomed screen pass.
Dobbs fumbled on his third-down run from the 2-yard line in overtime but was bailed out when Jalen Hurd recovered the loose ball in the end zone for what proved to be the winning points.
• UT’s offensive line failed to protect Dobbs on several occasions and did not open holes for the run game. Left tackle Drew Richmond gave up a sack, Brent Kendrick had a hold and Coleman Thomas had a false start and high snap that stalled out the opening drive of second half.
• Cam Sutton led the nation in punt return average last season (18.7 yards), but he started his senior season on the wrong foot by fumbling away Appalachian State’s opening drive punt, setting up the Mountaineers for a five-play, 36-yard TD drive. UT only allowed opponents to start on its side of the field 12 times all of last season. Sutton’s second return went for no yards, as he was unable to break a tackle.
• Tennessee tackling was not sharp, quite possibly a byproduct of the Vols only holding one full-course scrimmage at Neyland Stadium. The disqualification of last season’s leading tackler, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, surely did not help the cause.
• The Tennessee fanbase somehow held it together throughout a tough night, save a few well-deserved boos here and there. The attendance of 100,074 was strong considering the fact it was a weeknight game and the weather was less than desirable, streamy and wet.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.