Tennessee overcame 650 yards of total offense, including 249 by opposing quarterback TaQuon Marshall, to defeat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 42-41 in double overtime of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Monday night in Atlanta Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Redshirt junior defensive lineman Paul Bain (Hillgrove HS) blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt by Tech’s Shawn Davis as time expired in regulation to force overtime. Davis missed a 47-yard field goal early in the third quarter. “You know, it was disappointing,” said Jackets head coach Paul Johnson. “Either of those field goals ices the game, too.”
Tennessee scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive following the first missed field goal. Marquez Callaway’s (Warner Robins HS) leaping 10-yard catch over defensive back A.J. Gray cut the Jackets’ lead to 7. Callaway turned a short pass from Quinten Dormady into a 50-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cut the Jackets’ lead to 7 for a second time. “What can I say about that individual (Callaway),” said Vols head coach Butch Jones. “He sparked us and made some very, very key plays for us.”
Tech was up 21-7 before Callaway’s heroics. Marshall gave the Jackets a two-touchdown lead in his first game as the Tech starter. The junior from Harris County High School broke loose for 181 yards on the ground in the second half. ““After the first couple of draws, I calmed down,” said Marshall. “I got into a groove and KirVonte [Benson] was helping me out.”
The first half belonged to the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech’s offensive line simply rooted out the Vols’ defensive tackles that allowed B-Back KirVonte Benson (Marietta HS) to churn 71 yards off a steady diet of dive and off-tackle carries. Johnson mixed in a few toss sweeps to A-Back Qua Searcy (Lamar County HS) for 22 yards.
“You know, it was what it was,” said Johnson of the Tech running game. “They ran the MIKE linebacker the whole game. They just lined him up seven yards deep and ran, so they were playing with virtually four guys inside, and we were just following the B-back with a quarterback and run it in there.”
Tennessee’s offense showed more consistency in the second half. The receivers held onto a few more passes than they did in the first half. “We have to be able to throw and catch out on the perimeter and catch the football,” said Jones. After 12 first-half incompletions on 20 attempts, Dormandy went 11 of 16 for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the second.
Vols running back John Kelly helped move the offense in the second half. The junior rushed for 69 yards on eight carries in the last two quarters of regulation play.
The efficiency of the offense and the forced turnovers by the defense gave Tennessee the opportunity they needed to force the extra time. Despite having only five offensive possessions, the Vols outscored Tech 21-7 in the second half. Tennessee’s defense forced two fumbles that resulted in 14 points. Linebacker Daniel Bituli ripped the ball from Marshall’s arm and senior linebacker Cortez McDowell (Locust Grove HS, GA) outran Tech right tackle Jake Stickler to recover the ball for the Vols.
Defensive back Rashaan Gaulden caught JJ Greene from behind on a breakaway run and stripped the A-Back at the Vols’ 25-yard line. Fellow Vols defensive back Micah Abernathy recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 17.
“The last fumble killed us,” explained Johnson. “I think we’ve got the game in control down there, in spite of being horrendous on special teams, kicking the ball, I think we could have scored there, run the clock down, and I’m not sure they would have had enough time to score twice, but we didn’t, they did.”
Neither defense offered much resistance in the two overtime periods. Marshall and Kelly traded touchdowns for their respective teams in both overtimes. In the second overtime, a pass interference penalty against Tech defensive back Step Durham on a jump ball to Josh Palmer at the pylon gave the Vols first and ten at the 2. Kelly added his fourth rushing touchdown one play later. Marshall ran through two would-be tacklers from 13 yards out to set up the decision of going for the tie or the outright win. Johnson chose the latter. “I just felt like we had a better chance of getting a two-point conversion than we did of stopping them,” explained Johnson.
Georgia Tech has a short week to prepare for Jacksonville State on Saturday afternoon on the Flats. “My big concern right now is those kids on offense that just played 96 plays, and then they have to turn around and play again on Saturday,” said Johnson. “There won’t be a whole lot of practicing going on. We’ll have to try to get them rested to play.”
All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photography for CORE360 Sports