Cory Gunkel's Take
Just when you thought Tennessee was prepared to take the next step, toss the big win monkey off its collective back and make a statement louder than the 114 decibels of the 102,455 voices bouncing across Neyland Stadium, the Vols sputtered like my Dodge Stratus.
First thing's first: I'm not kicking a field goal in the first quarter on the one-centimeter line. I'm also not a college football coach and am much dumber than Butch Jones when it comes to football. Tennessee decided to take the points and, in hindsight, it needed as many as it could get. After racking up 17 points in the first half, the Vols managed only 66 yards for the entire rest of the game. You read that right.
I thought the defense played exceptionally well for a majority of the game. They locked down Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's Air Raid for just 187 yards in the air and Todd Kelly Jr. brought Neyland to its feet twice with huge interceptions. The only problem? The offense could do absolutely nothing with it. Jalen Hurd cracked the century mark and that was about it. Josh Dobbs went 13-of-31 for 125 yards. Alvin Kamara had five total touches. The Vols failed to score from 12:24 in the second quarter until overtime. It was truly a bad performance all-around for the O.
In the end, the D was simply too tired to finish the sandwich. Jalen Reeves-Maybin turned in one of the gutsiest performances I can remember, notching 21 total tackles, 13 solo, to go along with a sack and a forced fumble. The secondary played better minus a few breakdowns, and the defensive line flushed Baker Mayfield all night. Mayfield was just able to escape like Chris Angel turning into a bat at a Vegas casino. Oklahoma was a horrendous 2-of-12 on third down after the third quarter but converted seven of its last eight third down attempts. The defense simply ran out of gas.
Trevor Daniel might have been the player of the game. The guy can flat out boot the ball and flipped field position for his team all night. Aaron Medley's shakiness continued, and there has to be some cause for concern as he starts out the season 2-of-5.
At the end of the day, Tennessee still doesn't know how to close these games out. And the Vols are going to have to learn in a hurry with a date in Gainesville against a Florida team that is just as beatable as it has ever been looming in the distance. The season is in no way lost for Tennessee. The entire SEC East race is ahead of Team 119. Will they be able to shake these demons and grab it by the horns?
Special teams: B+
Danny Parker's Take
It's been said before and said plenty of times. Tennessee football has to learn how to win.
It's not the simplest task, especially when so many ranked foes are on the schedule. But, instead of holding calls, snap infractions and dropped touchdown passes in the second half, the Volunteers are going to have to make plays and close teams out. Oklahoma had no business winning this game.
Wouldn't have handed the ball to Alvin Kamara on third-and-goal in the first quarter. Also wouldn't have kicked the field goal mere inches away. Then again, I figures the double overtime total point output would more resemble a regulation score.
Alex Ellis dropped a touchdown reception that would've won the game. Aaron Medley missed a field goal that would have been the difference between a win and a loss. Can't put it all on those two young men, but those are the exact types of plays I've been speaking about all summer long and why I picked Tennessee to go 7-5 instead of 9-3 with an Eastern Division crown.
Taking a step away from it all, the Big Orange put the No. 19 team in the country in the corner and pounded the body much of the night, especially defensively. In spite of seeing their beloved Vols pile up 47 losses in 7 years, the fan base believes in the direction Butch Jones has this program headed and Neyland Stadium was the loudest it's ever been. Hat tip to the fans, who deserved to walk out with smiles instead of frowns.
Eight different players caught passes from Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd netted 106 yards on 24 carries. When the offense failed to move the chains, first-year starting punter Trevor Daniel boomed the football and averaged 50 yards a kick.
If Jalen Reeves-Maybin plays like this all fall and isn't first-team All-SEC, I'm writing a column and other media members won't like it. The Clarksville kid played with a cape on his back much of the evening, registering 21 tackles, including half the team's sacks and three tackles for loss. Todd Kelly Jr. put up eight tackles, two interceptions and absolutely cannot go to the bench next week (with LaDarrell McNeil cleared to play).
Most likely the best crowd I've ever seen at a sporting event. How many Tennessee fans will carry this passion back to Neyland in the weeks to come? Heard one Vols fan and season-ticket holder say he's never coming back. Perhaps he simply spoke out of emotion.
Tennessee has enough in orange and enough talented coaches for the faithful to keep the faith. Will they? Ask me again as we're leaving Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Special teams: B-
Josh Woodward's Take
Talk about a tail of two halves. The Vols looked sharp in the early going, feeding off the energy in of the crowd, but the second half was seriously lacking on offense. I put the blame of this one on the coaching staff. Clearly they got out coached on the offensive side.
Offensively, Tennessee was able to move the ball for most of the first half. I disagree with Butch Jones on the early field goal and taking the points. It was three inches from the goal line and Jalen Hurd or Josh Dobbs could have easily went over the top. Still, the Vols scored 17 in the half and looked like they would cruise to an easy victory. When the offense came out of halftime they drove the ball down and looked like they were going to score, but a missed Aaron Medley field goal killed any momentum Tennessee had. Oklahoma then started to bring pressure and it stifled the offense. The Sooners pressured Josh Dobbs and kept Jalen Hurd in check. In the second overtime they continued to bring pressure and forced Dobbs into that errant throw that ended the game.
Defensively, you can hardly blame these guys, Jalen Reeves-Maybin had the game of his life. I mean the kid had 21 tackles and a sack. Derek Barnett also had a wonderful performance with 15 tackles an a sack of his own. Middle linebacker is still a weak spot on the defense, The Vols need to improve there. I also thought the secondary improved over last week. The defense just got left on the field too long and got gassed. The game plan they had worked and held a high-powered Oklahoma offense 17 in regulation.
They brought punter Trevor Daniel out in the post game for interviews. I don't really ever remember a punter being interviewed after a game. He is a difference-maker right now. Daniel averaged 50 yards a punt tonight. Field goals are a different story, as Aaron Medley looks to be in a little slump. Tennessee needs Medley to be the kicker he was his freshman year.
Overall, this game stings and stings bad. I can hear the disappointment in the players' voices in the post-game. As I said earlier, this one is on the staff. They need to do a better job of adjusting. You can even say they played the second half not to lose. We all learn from experience and this experience, hopefully, will pay dividends later in the season.
Special teams: C