"We took a shot," head coach Derek Dooley said of the game-winning 25-yard pass. "It's not like we were moving the ball and could be methodical, so we took a shot. It was a great throw and a great catch … a hell of a way to finish a game."
Simms said a play-action fake froze the UAB safety just long enough for Moore to get open on the climactic TD play.
"The safety was flat-footed there for a split second," the quarterback said, "and that was all the time I needed to make my decision. I just tried to put it in a place where he (Moore) could go up and get it – jump over the corner – and that's exactly what he did."
The Vols, now 2-2, were quite fortunate to win. The Blazers, now 1-3, outplayed Tennessee for much of the afternoon but missed five field goals. They torched the Vols through the air, completing 33 of 60 passes for 429 yards. The visitors finished with 544 total yards and 23 first downs, compared to 287 yards and 15 first downs by the Big Orange. UAB kept the ball for 36:07 to Tennessee's 23:53 and converted 9 of 23 third-down opportunities while limiting the Vols to 2 of 15.
"We got whipped up and down the field by UAB for four quarters," Dooley said. "They outplayed us at every position. We really didn't do anything well … nothing. "
After a brief pause, the coach qualified that blanket statement a bit.
"We kept fighting," he said. "That's the only thing we did well. We kept fighting. We didn't tackle. We didn't line up right. We blew coverages. We didn't block. We didn't catch. We didn't run routes right. We didn't run the ball well. We did nothing well except we kept fighting, and that's what gave us a chance."
Tennessee fought its way to a 23-7 halftime lead. But UAB, which rallied from a 23-0 deficit to beat Troy 34-33 one week earlier, again showed its resilience. A 27-yard touchdown pass from David Isabelle to Frantrell Forrest on fourth-and-eight whittled the deficit to 23-13 midway through the third quarter. A two-point conversion pass from Bryan Ellis to Jeffery Anderson made it a one-score game at 23-15.
Isabelle scored on a six-yard quarterback draw, then Ellis hit Anderson with another two-point pass to tie the score at 23-all with 9:12 remaining.
UAB had a chance to win in regulation but Josh Zahn missed a 54-yard field goal try with 38 seconds left. Tennessee then advanced to the Blazer 42-yard line with nine seconds left before back-to-back sacks doomed the drive and sent the game to overtime.
Daniel Lincoln hit a 40-yard field goal on Tennessee's OT possession but Zahn answered with a 35-yarder to force a second extra period. Zahn then nailed a 21-yard field goal on the first possession of Overtime No. 2, setting the stage for the dramatic Simms-to-Moore touchdown pass.
Tennessee got off to a great start, zooming 59 yards in nine plays to score on the game's opening possession. Simms got two yards on a fourth-and-one sneak at the UAB 15-yard line, then hit Denarius Moore with a 13-yard TD pass on the next play for a 7-0 lead.
"We came out on fire," Dooley noted.
The Blazers advanced to the Vol 23-yard line on their ensuing possession but Zahn missed a 41-yard field goal try. UAB tied the score on its next possession, however, when Ellis hit Mike Jones with a 52-yard touchdown pass.
The tie lasted just 36 seconds. On the first snap of Tennessee's next possession Zach Rogers slipped behind the UAB secondary, gathered in a 20-yard pass from Simms and raced untouched to the end zone to complete a 72-yard TD play that provided a 14-7 lead.
Daniel Lincoln hit a 47-yard field goal early in the second quarter, bumping the lead to 17-7. Zahn tried twice to answer for the Blazers but misfired from 35 and 49 yards.
UAB got the ball at its 5-yard line with 1:55 left to halftime. Rather than run out the clock, Ellis attempted a risky out route into the left flat. Vol safety Prentiss Waggner stepped in front to intercept, then waltzed into the end zone, giving the Big Orange a 23-7 lead. Lincoln's PAT attempt was blocked – a fact that would prove critical as the game progressed.
Tennessee tailback Tauren Poole suffered a thigh bruise that sidelined him for the second half and limited him to 23 yards on six carries. Backup David Oku filled in adequately, rushing eight times for 33 yards. Freshman Rajion Neal added 20 yards on four carries.
Simms completed 19 of 34 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He had at least four on-target passes dropped, costing him probably 90 yards and another TD.
UAB's Ellis finished 29 of 55 passing for 373 yards. Backup Isabelle passed for just 56 yards but led the Blazers with 63 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Apparently determined to find a silver lining, Dooley praised his troops for pushing through their awful performance and praised the fans for sitting through such a lame exhibition.
"They kept fighting," he said of his players. "I think they had to pick me up one series. For me it's a fight. And I appreciate the fans staying because there was a point there where I'm like, ‘Man, I'm shocked anybody's staying the way we're playing.'"
As ugly as it was, the win still counts. Dooley took some small measure of satisfaction in that.
"We won," he said. "I told the team that we're never going to not celebrate a win because they're hard to come by."
They're especially hard to come by for this Tennessee team. That was painfully evident Saturday afternoon.