The Team of Destiny, Lucky Top, and my personal favorite, the Voodoo Vols are just a few of the nicknames that the Tennessee Volunteers have garnered over the first half of the season. All of this hype came to an end on Saturday, however; as the Vols dropped a heartbreaker to Texas A&M in double overtime. Tennessee once again displayed their resiliency managing to overcome a 21 point deficit, countless injuries, and 7 turnovers, and force the game into overtime. Unfortunately, this time their “luck” ran out, or did it?
There were many factors that ultimately led to Tennessee’s demise, but the biggest of them all were the 7 turnovers, 6 of which came in regulation. It is damn near impossible to win a game after committing seven turnovers, yet somehow Tennessee almost did it, and there was no luck involved in that. Tennessee’s defense played strong only allowing 21 points off of turnovers, and the offense matched them putting up record numbers. The turnovers are the ultimate reason Tennessee lost the game, but there was nothing lucky about the Vols making a comeback.
Digging further into the game, injuries played a prominent role in the outcome. Obviously, Tennessee entered the game without their three stars on defense, but there was more adversity to be faced this week as Jalen Hurd was unable to play. As the game progressed the Vols lost more to injury when starting defensive tackle Danny O’Brian went down with a scary injury. Also, Dylan Weisman was lost to an injury forcing Colman Thomas to step in and play center, whom many view as a liability at the position. Evan Berry also got hurt, but was able to make a comeback late in the game. Sure, injuries are a part of the game, but there comes a point that when nearly half of the starters are out with injury that a team should not be competitive anymore. The Vols, however; were able to step up when needed and fight and claw their way back in to the game. Not many teams in the country would be able to take the injuries Tennessee had and fight the way they did either. This factor alone was the biggest test of Tennessee’s resiliency, and not only did they prove it to the fans, but they proved it to themselves, also.
Before I start this section let me preface it by saying, “The reason Tennessee lost this game was because of the 7 turnovers,” but officiating played a major role in this game whether you like it or not. I am not one to blame officials for the outcome of a game, but there comes a point when the refs are playing a major factor and change the way momentum swings. Probably the biggest example of this was on a kickoff when Cullen Gillaspia made an illegal tackle on Vols kick returner Evan Berry. Berry then proceeded to fumble the ball which led to an Aggie touchdown. Gillaspia went helmet to helmet on Berry and it was clear as day on the replay. By rule, this is targeting. No call, or review for that matter, was made and the momentum pendulum was completely in favor of Texas A&M. Fast forward to a punt return by Alvin Kamara when Nigel Warrior made a clean block on Gillaspia and was called for targeting. This call negated a 50+ yard kick return and gave Tennessee terrible starting field position. Follow that up with the countless amount of times that Tennessee’s receivers were interfered with and there was no call. There were numerous times when drives would have been extended on third down, but since there was no call Tennessee was forced to punt. To the official’s credit, in the fourth quarter I had no issues with how the game was handled. Regardless, the damage had already been done. The Refs for this game obviously did not decide the outcome of the game, but they definitely impacted it.
So, I said all that to say this: Tennessee faced more adversity and proved more in this loss, than in any other game this season. Tennessee has had to fight adversity in pretty much every game this year, other than Ohio, but none were to the level of the fight against the Aggies. Usually, when the Vols have dealt with adversity it has been a big half time deficit and/or a few injuries. The contest between Tennessee and Texas A&M proved just how much fight the Vols really do have in them. Not only did they come back from being behind by 21, they fought through all the injuries including those that happened in game, they never got discouraged and quit on a play despite all the turnovers, they kept fighting and playing hard, undeterred by the one sided officiating, and lastly, they went into a hostile environment that Tennessee has never been to before and gave their all. It just so happened it was not enough this time. Still and all, Tennessee showed more fight and more courage playing in a loss than they did in all 5 of their wins combined. The Vols will be fine, and will bounce back in a big way against Alabama.
Tennessee is better off today than they were on Friday and that is because of how they played against A&M. I am sure many people thought Tennessee would just lay down at some point, considering everything they faced, but the fact that they didn’t and continued to fight opened up a lot of people’s eyes about just how good this team is. The Vols are three fourths of the way through the toughest four game stretch in all of college football, with the toughest game to go. I think Tennessee will play this game with a chip on their shoulder and come out and shock quite a few people. Tennessee is a really good team, and everyone is starting to realize it.
Also, I would be remised if I did not mention how well Kamara played. He is a freak athlete and he absolutely gave his all for Tennessee on Saturday.