By Steve Williams
Be honest Tennessee football fans. When you woke up Friday morning, did you feel good about how your Vols played in their season opener the night before?
Coach Butch Jones told us “1-0 is 1-0” on his post-game show after the come-from-behind 20-13 overtime win over Appalachian State Thursday night at Neyland Stadium.
Fans of Louisville, the only other Top 25 team in action Thursday, also woke up 1-0 Friday after their Cardinals clawed Charlotte 70-14. Suppose Butch believes UT fans should feel as good as Louisville fans feel today?
Let’s get real. Tennessee fans have reason to be concerned. The No. 10 ranked Vols were 20-point favorites. They are fortunate to be 1-0. Appy State gave them all they wanted and then some.
Game 2 can’t get here quick enough. A sound win over Virginia Tech Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway is much needed to restore confidence.
Jones reminded us a team makes the most strides in a season from Week 1 to Week 2. We’ll see.
Maybe the Vols got what they really needed Thursday – a good scare from the Mountaineers. After reading and hearing for months how good they are, the Vols, hopefully, figured out they have to do more than just show up. They have to play better.
The negatives in the first half: Cam Sutton’s muffed punt leads to early Appy touchdown … Controversial replay ruling nullifies Preston Williams’ TD catch … Illegal helmet contact on defenseless player disqualifies Jalen Reeves-Maybin from the game late in first quarter …Appy coach gambles on fourth down and Vols’ defense fails to get off the field. The possession leads to Appy’s second TD and a 13-3 lead … A holding penalty negates a big pass play … Joshua Dobbs throws off back foot and is intercepted at the Appy 8-yard line late in first half.
“It’s been a tough night,” Coach Jones told the SEC Network audience on his way to the dressing room. “We’re going to find out what we’re made of in the second half.”
The positives after halftime: Evan Berry takes kickoff eight yards deep in end zone and returns it to the 41 … Sutton makes a diving interception at the Vols’ 31 … 67-yard bomb from Dobbs to Josh Malone ties game … Senior offensive lineman Dylan Wiseman recovers Jalen Hurd’s fumble after a 15-yard gain to the 43 … Hurd’s fumble recovery in end zone in OT … Micah Abernathy breaks up Appy’s fourth down pass in end zone to secure victory.
“That’s what good teams do – they find ways to win,” Coach Jones told the SEC Network audience after the game.
And what did he find his team to be made of in the second half?
“Determination,” answered Butch.
Bottom line (Pick your favorite): We had it all the way … Thankfully, one game does not make a season … All’s well that ends well … We have the Hokies right where we want them – licking their chops … Honey, don’t forget the binoculars!