It’s finally here. This Saturday, the Battle at Bristol finally takes place as the Tennessee Volunteers battle the Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Hokies opened the 2016 season last week with a 36-13 thrashing of Liberty. Sure, Tech got off to a slow start offensively, but the Hokies pulled away late in the second quarter and never looked back.
Tennessee, on the other hand, had a very different opening week. Sure, the Volunteers won, defeating Appalachian State. However, it took overtime for the Vols to win, outlasting the Mountaineers by a score of 20-13.
The Volunteers won when running back Jalen Hurd fell on quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ fumble in the end zone.
But, UT won and that’s really all that matters now.
Coming into the season, a lot was expected from the duo of Hurd and Dobbs. Hurd, for the most part, did his share. He ran for 110 yards and a score. However, it wasn’t easy as it took Hurd 28 carries to get those 110 yards, averaging less than 4 yards per carry. His longest run was for 13 yards.
Dobbs completed 16 of 29 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also finished with -4 yards on the ground.
It was mixed bag for Dobbs. He hit one of the most important passes in the game when he connected with Josh Malone for 67-yard touchdown that tied the game at 13 in the fourth quarter.
Other than that, Dobbs had issues. He missed open receivers and made bad decisions, too. His interception at the end of the first half was a curious decision and it cost Tennessee points, too. Instead of playing it safe, Dobbs put one up for grabs and Appy State picked it off.
Those three points cost Tennessee in a major way.
Up front, the Volunteers really struggled. Tennessee’s much-ballyhooed defensive line struggled with Appalachian State’s unheralded offensive line. The Mountaineers rushed for 184 yards and averaged over four yards per carry.
Tennessee's OL/DL getting their butts kicked tonight. Tough to win when you lose the LOS! Still can win but awful up front.— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) September 2, 2016
UT’s offensive line also had its issues. Dobbs was running for life on numerous plays and the Vols couldn’t keep those running lanes open consistently. Tennessee returned four starters on the offensive line from a year ago and start redshirt freshman Drew Richmond at left tackle. Richmond was one of the top recruits from the class of 2015.
So, it was a bit a bit of a surprise to see Tennessee struggle up front.
Can the Hokies attack the Vols where Appalachian State did? Or will the Volunteers be better prepared?
This is a very winnable game for Virginia Tech. Tennessee is good—perhaps really good—and will be looking to make a statement with a win over Tech. But the Hokies and new coach Justin Fuente have a prime opportunity to show everyone they’re for real and the Volunteers are—once again—a bit overrated.