The road to redemption is paved with high expectations and yesterday, Tennessee delivered. In an overtime thriller against the Pittsburgh Panthers, the Vols clawed their way to a 2-0 start to the season. Coach Heupel’s fourth faceoff in five years against the Panthers ended in victory. A bigger win for the Vols than their opener against Ball State, Tennessee is embracing change and showing improvement. And though the Tennessee-Pittsburgh recap ends in a Vol Nation victory, the Vols need to grow quickly for even tougher upcoming play.
Related Article: Tennessee-Pittsburgh Preview
Nobody Said It Was Easy
The game got off to a rocky start for Rocky Top with the Panthers up 10-0 in the first quarter. By the second quarter, the Panthers were ahead 17-7. For much of the early part of the game, the Vols’ defense was seemingly nowhere on the field and the offense was unusually slow to get started. Given Heupel’s remarks on the strength of Pitt on both sides of the ball, Tennessee’s early unpreparedness was puzzling. But, the Vols’ offense came alive in the second quarter to put up 17 points, leading 24-17 at the half.
Pitt lost its starting QB, Kedon Slovis, to an injury at halftime. The second half of the game was played by QB Nick Patti who appeared hobbled in his own right. Pitt’s team was plagued with a slew of injuries that required adjustments to their offensive unit. But even with changes to the roster, the Panthers did not make this win an easy one for the Vols.
During the second half, Tennessee had ample opportunity for a two possession lead. But penalties, a blocked punt, and a fumble kept the Vols in their own way. And, after a muffed punt from Tennessee in the fourth quarter, Patti led the Panthers to a game-tying drive with just over two minutes on the clock. This was the only non-overtime touchdown in the last 30 minutes of the game.
However, Tennessee took the overtime and made it work. On the first possession in overtime, Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman teamed up to score the game-winning touchdown. This wasn’t the Vols’ best performance overall but its dynamic duo shored up the win for a 2-0 start to the season. Perhaps equally important, Tennessee came back and avenged last year’s loss against the Panthers.
Tennessee-Pittsburgh Recap: What Worked
There are positive takeaways for the Big Orange.
Notably, Hendon Hooker had another steady performance this week. It wasn’t his best performance but he came through in key moments. Despite three sacks and a holding penalty on the Vols in overtime, Hooker landed a 28 yard pass to Tillman for the final touchdown of the game.
Tennessee’s defense is its weakness but after struggling early on they rose to the challenge, applying consistent pressure to Pitt’s quarterbacks. They held Pitt to eight consecutive possessions without a touchdown.
A win is a win. The Vols need to play better and more consistently with tougher conference play on the horizon but for now, they’ve made it clear they are making an effort. In Josh Heupel’s second season, that effort might just end in a winning season and a bowl appearance for the Vols.
Tennessee-Pittsburgh Recap: Vegas
I talked abut odds on this game in my preview article. Using FanDuel Sportsbook, I bet the moneyline on Tennessee. Once again, the Vols delivered!
No. 24 Tennessee defeated no. 17 Pittsburgh on the road this week. On Saturday, they’re back at home to take on the Akron Zips.
No offense to Akron fans but this one is likely to be about as challenging for the Vols as the Ball State Cardinals were. This game will basically be a reset for the Vols, and probably an opportunity for younger and less experienced players to get some reps and play action.
Right now I don’t know the odds on this game but I’ll be posting them later this week! Stay tuned for more Vol Football news and predictions heading into week three!
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