KNOXVILLE, Tenn.. — Butch Jones told anyone that would listen that first games or “games of the unknown,” and it’s fair to say few could have predicted how Tennessee’s opener would play out against Appalachian State.
The No. 9-ranked Vols won, 20-13 in overtime, in a game that kept the partisan crowd of 100,074 on the edge of their seats throughout.
“On a night where just about anything and everything went wrong,” Jones said, “we found a way to win.”
Somewhat ironically, the winning points were scored when something went right after something had gone wrong for Tennessee.
Tailback Jalen Hurd, stifled most of the night by the undersized Mountaineers (0-1), fell on Josh Dobbs’ fumble into the end zone in overtime to give UT its first lead of the night, 20-13.
Of course, had Hurd been able to score on his two cracks from inside the 5-yard line — he picked up 3 yards on first-and-goal at the App State 4 before losing a yard on second-and-goal at the 1 — the fumble recovery would not have been necessary.
It was that kind of night for Tennessee, which made one mistake after another.
“For us, the formula for winning never changes, and I thought we did some things that were very uncharacteristic for us that we’re going to have to get corrected in a hurry,” Jones said. “In particular, taking care of the football. We have to take care of the football.”
The Vols were fortunate to recover three of their four fumbles in the game.
“I’ll never apologize for a win,” said Jones, whose team was a three-touchdown favorite. “I’m proud of our players because they found a way to win the football game. Do we have to get a lot better? Absolutely, we have to get a lot better. It starts with me, it starts with our coaches, it starts with our players, it starts with everyone in the organization.
“But, we found a way to win a football game and with everything and anything that could go wrong, we found a way to win. To me, that’s critical.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.