Pump the brakes: No. 17 Tennessee uses defense to stall VaTech 45-24 in front of record-setting BMS crowd

Published 2:55 am Sunday, September 11, 2016

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips  Tennessee free safety Micah Abernathy races past Hokies' quarterback Jerod Evans to recover a fumble that set up the Volunteer's first touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips
Tennessee free safety Micah Abernathy races past VaTech quarterback Jerod Evans to recover his first of three fumbles that set up the Volunteers’ first touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

As fans arrived just in time for college football’s biggest ever get together – the University of Tennessee football just happened to be a quarter late.
Falling behind 14-0 at the end of the first period, the No. 15 Volunteers (2-0) brought the party favors with five fumble recoveries and scored 24 points unanswered in the second half to capture a 45-24 in front of a record crowd at the inaugural Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol contest held at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night.
With orange and purple scattered throughout the BMS for the SEC-ACC contest, the attendance set a Guinness World Record as the all-time high-attended college game at 156,990. The previous record, 115,109, was set back on back in 2013 when the University of Michigan hosted Notre Dame.
“Like I said out there, I don’t think this will be duplicated or replicated,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said after the contest, thanking BMS. “ All the hard work and effort that’s gone on for many, many years, planning and staff to pull this off.  It was an incredible experience for our student-athletes and will be something they will remember for a lifetime. And how about our fans? Our fans really came out. I told our kids it is very, very special to represent the University of Tennessee.”
Even with the sounds of Rocky Top floating through the air after the contest, the Hokies (1-1) wouldn’t be deterred early on.
VaTech quarterback Jerod Evans (20-28, 214 yards) made it look easy on the first two possessions. After a missed field goal on their opening drive, the Hokies stormed back down the field with an eight-play, 62-yard drive capped off by an Evans’ to Sam Rogers connection with under five minutes left in the first quarter. Travon McMillian aided the cause on their following possession, racing from 69 yards out to give the Hokies the 14-0 at the end of the quarter, following the point-after attempt.
Micah Abernathy, who set an all-time Volunteer record for most fumbles recovered in a game with three, set the tone for the defense to open up the second, racing after a bad exchange between Evans and a VaTech runner to recover a fumble to set up the Vols within the red zone.
“With the fumbles, I was in the right place at the right time and I like to be a consistent player and I thought I brought that to the game for my players and my coaches,” Abernathy said. “Looking at week one and week two, I was just trying to be consistent on the field. We were just flying to the ball and TK (Todd Kelly Jr.) had a big hit and so did (Kendal) Vickers. We were just flying to the ball and that is something that we stress in practice and we tried to do it in the game.”
Senior Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs only need one throw, catching wide receiver Jauan Jennings from five yards out to cut the defect within a score, 14-7, 14:43 to go in the first half.
Dobbs (10-19, 91 yards, 3 TDs) orchestrated two of the touchdowns in the second, including a 38-yard pass to Josh Malone and five-yard run, to help his team take the 24-14 lead at the half.
“We knew that we were going to have to score more than 14 points if we wanted to win this ball game,” Dobbs said. “It was that expectation and that confidence throughout the unit. We were able to be patient and execute to take advantage of those situations.”
And has the game went on, the offense kept it pouring it on, outscoring the Hokies 21-10 in the second half, with the last touchdown coming on a late 2-yard run from Shai McKenzie.
“First of all, I’d like to congratulate Coach Jones and Tennessee on the victory tonight,” VaTech head coach Justin Fuente said.  “He’s got a good football team and those kids played hard. They deserved to win. I’m proud of some things we did out there today, and I’m not really happy about some other things. Obviously, we turned the ball over entirely too many times. At times, we lacked discipline out there, which is very disappointing. That falls on me. I liked the makeup of our guys. I know we’re going to be ready for a conference game next week. I know that’s what we’ll do. We’ve got to do a better job of preparing and ultimately, playing. We didn’t really give ourselves a chance to win.”
Dobbs, who surpassed Jimmy Streater as all-time leading Volunteer quarterback with rushing yards – going over 1404, finished with 14 carries for 106 yards. Junior Tennessee tailback Jalen Hurd added 99 yards on 22 carries while John Kelly added a late touchdown run in the second half.
Malone and Kamara combined for 71 yards through the air with two touchdowns to lead the passing attack.
With two games under their belts, Jones liked what he has seen out of his crew as they gear up for non-conference action next week.
“They played in front of over 250,00 fans in the first two games,” he said. “That’s something that’s very, very special. We didn’t start out like we wanted to obviously, down 14-0, but I really liked the way we responded. We got a big turnover and then we were able to capitalize off that.  I thought (if you) take away the one kickoff return, I thought we did a good job in terms of special teams.  We were finally able to run the football and play Tennessee style of football.”
* Tennessee was ranked No. 17 in AP the country and No. 14 in the coaches poll. During Sunday’s game saw the Vols move to No. 15 in both polls.
* UT junior running back Jalen Hurd finished with 99 yards Saturday night – ending his consecutive 100-yard rushing game mark to four games.
* Virginia Tech finished with more total offensive yards (400 to 330) and time of possession (31:44 to 28:16) than Tennessee.
* With Saturday’s win, Tennessee has moved their winning streak, dating back to the 2015 season, to eight games. The streak is the longest since the Vols’ 2001 season.
* Tennessee will play their third of four home games this week with a noon kickoff Saturday against Ohio. Virginia Tech will host Boston College Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in AAC play.
* UT opens SEC play next week against the Florida.
* Fans will have the chance to attend BMS once again for football this Saturday as East Tennessee State University and West Carolina University meet in SoCon action.