KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s run defense was relatively solid for four quarters against BYU on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
Still, the Vols couldn’t execute when it counted.
Trailing by three points in the second overtime period, BYU found the end zone on a 5-yard run by Ty’Son Williams for a 29-26 victory. Williams was initially stopped short before a mob of Cougars came to his aid, shoving him into the end zone for the win.
Tennessee (0-2) allowed 106 fewer rushing yards than it did last week against Georgia State, even limiting the Cougars (1-1) to negative rushing yards in the first half.
It still wasn’t good enough.
Tennessee defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus said BYU’s winning touchdown was not the result of lack of effort from the Vols’ defense, but rather lack of execution.
“They just executed better than we did,” Bumphus said. “It hurts but we defensive linemen just know that we don’t want to go through that anymore. We just have to go back and get it corrected.”
There were certainly bright spots for the Vols. Tennessee built a 13-3 halftime lead after allowing minus-4 rushing yards on 12 carries. BYU finished with 107 rushing yards on 30 carries.
Theo Jackson led the way for the Vols with nine tackles while Darrell Taylor contributed eight, including a sack.
However, the Vols allowed BYU to score on all five of its trips to the red zone, and they couldn’t come up with a stop with the game on the line. The Cougars’ three-play scoring drive that sealed the win consisted of runs of 13, 7 and 5 yards.
“For the teams that are good in the red zone, a lot of times they line up and run through everybody,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “Kind of like that team just did to us on the last play.”
It was, however, an improvement from the Vols’ run defense against Georgia State — a 26-point underdog and Sun Belt team that had never beaten a Power Five team since launching its program in 2010.
The Panthers stunned the Vols in last week’s season opener, rushing for 213 yards on 53 carries while converting on 10 of their 15 third downs.
Georgia State coach Shawn Elliot didn’t sugarcoat what he thought of Tennessee’s defense after the game.
“I thought we could push them a little bit with our offensive line,” Elliot said. “We probably could have run the same play over and over again.”
Tennessee appeared bewildered by the Panthers’ formation at times, and Georgia State capitalized with 24 points after halftime. Tra Barnett put Georgia State ahead for good 28-23 when he ran untouched into the end zone with less than nine minutes remaining.
Bumphus said that loss weighed on the minds of the defensive line against BYU.
“We felt like, as a unit, we needed to get out there because we didn’t want to go back through what we did last week,” Bumphus said. “We just worked really hard to improve. … “Just bear with us, we’re going to continue to fight.”