Vols almost get caught in Zip Akron challenges Vols for three quarters before playing the cupcake
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
KNOXVILLE — The Vols second cupcake had just enough more zip rather than zap that Tennessee nearly choked on the planned sweet treat.
Akron put up 163 yards in the second quarter alone, briefly led UT after a 70-yard scoring run from Quentin Hines and benefitted from the Vols’ offensive inefficiency inside the 10 before finally succumbing to Tennessee 47-26 Saturday night.
Tennessee (3-1) gave the crowd reason to stay — if not be exactly happy — with the decision still in doubt deep into the fourth quarter. Though the Volunteers amassed more than 600 yards, time after time, kicker Derrick Brodus was called on to kick the field goal as UT faltered upon breaching the Akron 20. The Alcoa alumnus hit a personal best four field goals — the last a 28-yarder with 12:38 to play that pushed the Vol lead back to 7.
“What did he hit, four? That was big. We were struggling there in that red area,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I’d rather be kicking PATs down there, I think we were 50 percent touchdowns on eight trips into the red zone.”
It took Eric Gordon’s diving interception off a tipped pass to Marquelo Suel with 9:09 to play to buy some breathing room for the Orange & White. Tyler Bray found Justin Hunter for a 19-yard strike on the ensuing snap, and two minutes later Jacob Carter caught a 24-yarder from Bray that decided the matter and disguised just how close the contest had been.
“The disappointing part was the turnovers. I was really proud of the way they came out dominated the second half 24-3,” Dooley said.
The Vols had a first-down run overruled and turned into a fumble in the first half to compound the problem of Bray’s second pass attempt of the game being picked off and returned 44 yards for a touchdown by Avis Commack and an early deficit.
“They came out and did a bunch of goofy stuff on defense that we had never seen before,” Dooley said of the Zips’ early alignments.
Akron (1-3) apparently wasn’t in on the plan to be the rebound win for a UT fan base jilted by a collapse against Florida. The Zips churned out 163 yards in the second quarter alone and matched the Vols score for score through the first half. When Tennessee was on the edge of pulling away with its first touchdown drive after twice settling for Brodus kicks, Akron got a surprise zip with Hines and his 70-yard run after the senior didn’t make the two-deep and had gained just 63 yards rushing the first three games combined. The jaunt gave Akron a 23-20 lead and only a return 70-yard effort from the Vols — on eight plays but taking just 65 seconds — gave Brodus the chance to send the Vols to the half in a tie rather than trailing their MAC opponent.
“That was the bad play of the game there,” Dooley said of the run. “I don’t think (the defense) struggled that much. The worst play was the run. When you play teams that throw like that we chose not to blitz him, the defense held them to like 16, really, because we spotted them 10.”
The teams combined for 164 snaps and more than 977 yards of offense before a crowd announced at 81,000 that left the upper deck sparse in spots, but still noticeably full until the final five minutes.
The Volunteers return to Southeastern Conference action next week with a trip to Georgia scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS.