BRISTOL, Tenn. — A once-in-a-lifetime night of football came with No. 17 Tennessee overcoming a two-score deficit to take the Battle at Bristol 45-24 over Virginia Tech in front of a record 156,990 fans.
The Volunteers improved to 2-0 on the season and have now won eight straight. The Hokies are 1-1.
Check out what InsideTennessee reporters said about the victory after taking in the action:
Scott Hall's Take
If you weren't at Bristol Motor Speedway you missed an event of a lifetime. It was such a weird game with the first two quarters being the complete opposite of each other but by halftime it was clear Tennessee was the better team.
The game turned the Vols way when sophomore Jack Jones entered the game for his first reps of the season. The offensive line was struggling badly for the second straight week. Jones was at right guard for five of the touchdown drives. Late in the game, the most effective grouping (from left to right) was Brett Kendrick, Jashon Robertson, Dylan Wiesman, Jones and Coleman Thomas.
It was the second straight game that wide receivers made game-changing plays with Josh Malone pulling in a 38-yard touchdown and Jauan Jennings hauling in a 5-yard fade in the end zone.
This was two weeks in a row that the defense has really played exceptional football after a tough first quarter. Tennessee is going to need its depth to show up in the future with some key injuries to senior defensive end LaTroy Lewis and sophomore linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle was a nice addition after not playing in the opener and recovered a fumble. The defense forced Virginia Tech into some crucial turnovers that ended any chance of a fourth-quarter comeback.
This is two straight games where this team had to play through adversity. In Bristol, the Vols responded sooner and with a vengeance. Seemingly a good sign for the growth of this team.
Special teams: B
Danny Parker's Take
A quick glance at social media and text messages showed that many Tennessee fans handed out pink slips to both Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord with minutes to play in the first quarter.
I'll admit, the Volunteers were hardly clicking on all cylinders and it was going to take a complete change of momentum for them to avoid being embarrassed in front of not only 156,000-plus but a national television audience.
Enter Micah Abernathy — again. That sophomore from Atlanta surprised some by nudging former Scout five-star Nigel Warrior and redshirt sophomore RaShaan Gaulden out of the way to earn a starting job at safety. He earned his stripes against Appalachian State and may as well have gotten oak leaves sewn on his shoulder pads Saturday night, recovering three fumbles to go with three tackles. Although the team gave up 186 net rushing yards, they caused and recovered five total fumbles. Talented Hokies wide receiver Isaiah Ford was held to 51 yards on five catches.
Senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin made up for time lost from the ejection (targeting) in the opener by registering 13 tackles (eight solo) with 1.5 tackles for loss.
Joshua Dobbs more closely resembled Outback Bowl Joshua Dobbs, netting 106 yards on the ground with two touchdowns (5, 27). Although his throw-game statistics weren't sexy, completing 10 of 19 passes for 91 yards, but he had three TD passes. The program "CEO" needed a redemption game, and he delivered. Most impressive considering the stage and going up against a Bud Foster defense.
Junior running back Jalen Hurd pounded up in there again and ground out another tough 99 yards. Carlin Fils-Aime won't be redshirted and got four attempts.
The shuffling of the offensive line was interesting to see. Believe Jack Jones was in the game all of about 4 seconds before Tennessee found paydirt. Curious to see what combination(s) we see for the Ohio game.
It remains to be seen how long junior kick returner Evan Berry will be out but Alvin Kamara will spell him there. Trevor Daniel was his usual solid self, averaging 42.5 yards per punt.
Special teams: B