There are no such things as moral victories in college football. Accordingly, there’s no such thing as a bad win — at least in the eyes of Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.
The Volunteers — largely thought of as a SEC title contender and even a College Football Playoff contender before the season — barely squeaked out a win against Appalachian State of the Sun Belt on Thursday night. Tennessee did pull out the win, 20-13 in overtime, but it was likely too close to comfort for most fans and pundits.
It certainly wasn’t pretty.
The Volunteers were down 10 points at halftime and turned the ball over two times: a muffed punt, and later an interception from quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Tennessee’s go-ahead touchdown in overtime actually was the result of a fumble from Dobbs as he tried to dive into the end zone. He lost the ball, but running back Jalen Hurd was able to recover to give Tennessee the win, which was sealed when the Vols’ defense stopped the Mountaineers on their overtime possession.
Here's another angle of Tennessee's game-winning TD. You'll see Jalen Hurd creep in and dive on the loose ball pic.twitter.com/JPkbfDTQTb
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 2, 2016
“The guy made a great play; he stuck me,” Dobbs said after the game, recapping the fumble. “We talk about covering down as an offense and following the ball. Jalen came to success covering down, finding the football, and being able to recover it in our favor. A touchdown is a touchdown.”
A touchdown is a touchdown and a win is a win, and that’s the way Tennessee fans need to look at this game. The Volunteers can now look ahead to Virginia Tech in the Battle at Bristol.
Sure, the Vols looked nothing like a CFP team on Thursday night, but Appalachian State isn’t an average Sun Belt team. The Mountaineers have a proud program with a history of upsetting big-time schools. App State had won 17 of its last 19 games heading into the contest, which included a win over Ohio in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl last season and four straight wins to end the 2015 season.
Put things in perspective: Tennessee had a bad game, but the Volunteers still came away with the win.
Put things into perspective: Tennessee is still a supremely talented program with the players and experience to win the SEC.
Perhaps the Vols needed a wake-up call to start the season. Perhaps they believed a bit too much in the hype heading into 2016. Perhaps they’ll be more focused now, which would be concerning for the rest of the SEC if it happens.
The first game of the year is always a game of the unknowns,” Jones said after the game. “We’re still developing our identity for this football team, but we found a way to win, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about, but we have to get a lot better. Credit App State too. They’re a really good football team.”
There’s no reason to panic if you’re a Volunteer. Tennessee is still 1-0, and there’s still a whole season of opportunity left for the program. When all is said and done, this season opener could become a simple blip on the radar.
“I’ve never been part of a frustrating win,” Jones said. “A win is a win. Again, in this profession you have 12 opportunities to win. Again, I’m proud of our team. I’m proud of our players. I thought that they showed some resiliency. Again, we played a really good football team.”