Tennessee averted disaster in its season opener on Thursday. The Volunteers beat Appalachian State in overtime, 20-13, by virtue of quarterback Josh Dobbs fumbling into the end zone and running back Jalen Hurd recovering the ball for a touchdown. That held up as the winning score when Tennessee's defense stopped the Mountaineers.
The effort by Dobbs on a dangerous attempt to leap into the end zone is admirable. The linebacker for Appalachian State slammed him to the turf, and he was in some apparent pain on the Tennessee sideline. Another replay angle showed that an Appalachian State player had the best chance to recover it, but it skirted through his legs for an alert Hurd to jump on it. Hurd appeared to be at least five yards away when the fumble occurred but never gave up on the play.
The game looked like a potential upset as Appalachian State jumped to a 13-3 lead at halftime, shocking the sea of orange that filled Neyland Stadium. The Vols battled back with a field goal and then a touchdown, setting up a frenetic finish. All the pressure, really, was on the Volunteers – this year’s SEC East favorite and one of the country’s trendiest breakout picks.
The tying touchdown came thanks to a great adjustment on a deep ball from Josh Dobbs by receiver Josh Malone for 67 yards. But Appalachian State kept the Volunteers in check by preventing big plays on defense and daring Tennessee to execute in the mid-range passing game, which it could not do consistently.
While neither team could consistently throw the football (300 combined yards on 52 attempts), the Mountaineers dominated time of possession by running the football on offense. Appalachian State repeatedly took advantage of Tennessee’s defensive aggressiveness with cutback runs, misdirection and involving receivers in the running game.
The Mountaineers had chances to win the game late in regulation, but shaky hurry-up drives produced no points, and the game went into overtime.
Next: Tennessee faces Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in front of what might be the largest crowd in college football history. Appalachian State hosts Old Dominion.