It wasn’t pretty on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, but the Tennessee Volunteers managed to remain unscathed at home as they beat the South Alabama Jaguars 31-24 in front of 87,266 fans.
The Jaguars got off to a quick start, scoring on a Ross Metheny 32 yard rushing touchdown on the opening drive of the game.
Tennessee (3-2) wasn’t able to immediately respond, going three-and-out on their first offensive possession.
Luckily for the Vols their defense was there to keep South Alabama (2-2) from jumping out to a two-score lead. LaDarrell McNeil intercepted a Ross Metheny pass to give the Vols a scoring chance.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, the Vols were unable to get anything going and had to settle for a Michael Palardy 40 yard field goal.
Tennessee finally found their rhythm midway through the first quarter. Marlin Lane had a career long 54 yard rush, which led to a two-yard touchdown pass from Justin Worley to true freshman tight end AJ Branisel, putting the Vols up 10-7.
Justin Worley heard plenty of boos on Saturday, despite a couple of very nice throws from the junior, particularly a 29 yard touchdown pass to Knoxville native Josh Smith, which was caught in the stride. The score put Tennessee up 17-7.
After that throw by Worley it seemed like Tennessee was really finding their groove. They forced South Alabama to punt and then had a “splash play” from Rajion Neal on the ensuing drive. Neal took a hand-off and showed great vision, picking up 53 yards. The senior running back had a career day, rushing for 169 yards on 25 carries.
The drive was capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Marlin Lane.
Worley first heard the boo birds on Tennessee’s next offensive possession.
With the Vols leading 24-7, and in South Alabama territory, Worley made an ill-advised throw into triple coverage (yes you read that correctly). The ball was intercepted in the end-zone, ending the Vols’ scoring threat.
Worley threw another interception just before half time, which appeared to be a bad route from Pig Howard.
Howard caught an earful from Jones as he headed to the locker-room.
Tennessee looked like they were going to put the game away early in the second half. The Vols scored on the opening drive of the second half, on the back of Rajion Neal’s strong running. Neal put the icing on the drive with an 11 yard touchdown run, putting the Vols up by 24, 31-7.
Brent Brewer then intercepted a tipped pass for the Vols, but that was the end of the Volunteers’ good fortune.
The Vols gave the ball right back to the Jaguars, on a tipped pass of their own. South Alabama capitalized on the turnover, scoring on a five yard Ross Metheny run.
From there on the Vols couldn’t get anything going on offense.
South Alabama added a field goal in the third quarter and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game.
The Jaguars drove deep into Tennessee territory with under three minutes to go in the game before Brian Randolph intercepted Metheny’s pass in the end zone, securing the win for the Vols.
Justin Worley finished the game 20-36 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Jason Croom led the Vols in receiving, catching 3 passes for 50 yards.
Despite playing a somewhat sloppy game, Butch Jones was happy with the win saying “I don’t ever want to diminish winning. We won the game. We said we needed to have three wins at this point. We have three wins at this point.”
Jones added “I like to look at the positives. This team found a way to win……..we had anything and everything that we could go wrong….yet we found a way at the end of the game to win.
The Vols have a tall task ahead of them next Saturday as they welcome the Georgia Bulldogs to Neyland Stadium.
- Marlin Lane, who rushed for 66 yards, did not return to the game after the first half. Jone said he has a lower extremity injury and he won’t know his status for Georgia until mid-week.
- Jones said that he never considered putting a freshmen QB in the game, saying “When they’re ready to play, they’ll be ready to play”
- Jones said he was proud of Justin Worley and thought he progressed.
- Butch said Marquez North is still going through the “nuances of being a college wide receiver”. Jones said he was basically a running back in high school.
- AJ Branisel and Josh Smith were the first true freshmen to score touchdowns this season on the offensive side of the ball.
- The Vol’s average attendance so far this season is 90,406. They’ve yet to have more than 100,000 fans at a game.